. . . I'm struggling to find the right words to describe this book. (Please see The Irish Times' summary of As It Is in Heaven, here).
In one sentence: As It Is in Heaven, written by Niall Williams in 1999, tells the story of Philip Griffin's wish to live his last, cancer-ridden days in utter support of his depressed son, Stephen, who has completely lost himself in love to a violinist, Gabriella Castoldi; the love of the father begins a cycle of redeeming love which heals more than both of them, but a village and unexpected others.
. . . But as for giving you, (reader), a taste of the book, I struggle to find a section of prose to quote. Each section follows the one before it too well, and needs the one after it for completion.
. . . So, I'll say that: this is a love story written by a romantic who is also a realist, who I also happened to meet in real life in an inn off the east coast of Ireland, in Howth, where he gave an hour long presentation on. . . writing. I don't think his mind was actually in the room until the end of his presentation, at which point many of us asked questions, which he answered very calmly with straightforward, honest answers, his eyes looking directly at the one who'd asked the question, keeping his eyes focused until the next arm went in the air.
I was sitting directly to his right and wrote in my journal while he spoke: "loneliness, difficulty, dissatisfaction, hard work." These were the things Williams said he dealt with, the things he'd agreed to when he decided to be "a writer."
I wonder if Irish authors find greater identity in their literary vocations than, perhaps, American authors do. I've heard US authors say before that they don't consider themselves a "writer," but that they merely "write." They underline the distinction between actor and action. One must do to be, and even then, the "being" is a constant, ever-fluctuating essence. A writer is always changing, and must reflect that in his or her own prose if the words are going to translate to the reader. Writers can only ever be honest with the reader, declaring facts or fictions as if they were the last words the writer had left to tell on earth. There must be implied importance in the prose. The writing must be believable. The reader chooses whether to believe or disbelieve.
For the most part, Niall Williams makes me a believer. (I'm at seventy-five percent). What matters is that I suspended disbelief while reading--and I think that's what counts. (Kirkus Reviews will tell sing you a different tune. You can read their summary here. Their analysis holds some merit: I don't deny that Williams's former novel, Four Letters of Love, struck me as more poetic and timeless a tale. And, though I don't wish to dissuade you from reading this week's book, here is another less-than-glowing review from the NY Times.)
Whether you think you want to read this or not, I do want to send you a section of it. Just to give you an idea of what the prose sounds like. So, here's this:
He had reached the far end of the beach when the rain stopped. Evening was drawing swiftly across the sky, and the seabirds vanished inland. In half an hour it would be darker than ink; already the line of the rocks was smudged into the sea and sky, and Stephen would have to walk home around by the road. But he did not. He felt the bird flying in his chest and the dazzlement of love making him lighter and brighter than nightfall. For the first time in his life he felt the radiance of a pure and visionary faith. He was bright with enlightenment. It felt like a reckless surge of invincibility. (102).
Okay friends. I don't think I did this book justice or described it as well as I could. But what I will say is this: I finished this book today, Sunday morning, at nine a.m., and put it down and went and got dressed and headed to church, early, and sat with my mother, and the whole time I felt happy, and hopeful; whether that hope was brought by the book or by something else entirely, I will grant that the book did not drag me down. If anything, it lifted me. That sounds corny, maybe romantic. But who cares. Literature can do a lot of things. Giving hope is good.