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The Narrow Land by Christine Dwyer Hickey

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Literary Fiction

By Swirl and Thread

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He thinks he is on a different train as he begins to wake. A train in Germany just after the war….He reminds himself to keep his eyes shut. Because that’s what you do when you wake up among strangers in Germany….’ 

The Narrow Land is the latest release from Irish writer Christine Dwyer Hickey. Just published with Atlantic Books, it is described as ‘a searing novel of loneliness and regret, the legacy of World War II and the ever-changing American Dream.’When I first heard about this book I was immediately drawn to it. The post-war era always fascinates me as I sometimes imagine life in America at that time, through my rose-tinted glasses. Edward Hopper is an artist whose paintings I have admired for quite some time with his unique style and the extremely appealing, and iconic, imagery of his artwork.

‘He is widely acknowledged as the most important realist painter of twentieth-century America. His work demonstrates that realism is not merely a literal or photographic copying of what we see, but an interpretive rendering.’ ( Source : edwardhopper.net )

Christine Dwyer Hickey had an idea about writing a novel featuring a young German boy post WW2, a boy who was left an orphan and was transported to America for a better life, a life away from the rubble and destruction of his war-torn home. She named him Micha. Micha was taken in by a childless couple from New York, the Novaks, but he struggled to settle properly as his thoughts kept casting back to his homeland and the terror of the war years.

During the summer of 1950, a very kindly lady, Mrs Kaplan, a woman who did charity work for these abandoned children, requested the company of Micha, or Michael as he was now known, to accompany herself and her family to Cape Cod for the summer weeks. Michael had never been to the coast, had never dipped his toes in the sea so he was very nervous of this adventure, keeping to himself for the first few days.

Young Richie was also staying in the same house with his mother Olivia and his Auntie Katherine. Each struggling with their own issues, each challenged daily with the path they now must walk. Michael is confused as to his presence there, at times feeling very much alone, but as time passes he establishes a rather unusual friendship with the Hoppers, who live in a nearby beach house.

When Christine Dwyer Hickey researched the life of Edward Hopper she was fascinated by the relationship between himself and his wife Jo. She read various journals and articles about the couple and decided to include a fictionalised account of their story in her novel, loosely based on fact.

Edward and Jo Hopper fed off each other. Their temperaments seemed poles apart, yet they seemed to compliment each other in many ways. In The Narrow Land, Edward Hopper is struggling. His artistic talent seems to have escaped him, leading him down the road of depression and a general malaise. Meanwhile, his wife Jo is frustrated. In her mind, her career has stalled to accommodate her husband, leading to some very irrational and arbitrary behaviour.

When Edward and Jo cross paths with both Michael and Richie, something happens. A connection is made and the couple step outside their tempestuous bubble into the world of the Kaplan household.

The Narrow Land is a study in human behaviour and relationships. There is no plot. There is no twist or climatic ending to this tale. The language used, the setting, the narrative all combine to create a painting with words, a visual treat for your mind as you escape to the shores of the Cape. It is a work of beauty, one that will appeal to all looking for a literary treat. Christine Dwyer Hickey has written a very evocative novel, one with an almost voyeuristic feel to it, as the reader is gently drawn into the lives of the Kaplans, the Hoppers and the Novaks. Edward Hopper is quite a fascinating subject as we witness his very volatile relationship with his wife.

‘She can feel his weariness beside her; the weight of it. She glances across at his face, drained and ghost-like in the street light, and she wonders: am I making him sick? Is it too much for him, all this worry about work, the lack of peace in his life, the bickering and fighting? When we were young we had such magnificent fights, such passionate reconciliations. And afterwards, at least for a while, the tender days of peace. But oh my husband, we are young no longer and never again’

The Narrow Land features on it’s cover the famous 1952 Sea Watchers painting by Edward Hopper, immediately invoking a sense of what is to come. A couple looking out toward the ocean, together but also apart, both lost in their own world, their own thoughts. It is a striking cover, one very fitting to the mesmerising tale that the author has woven.

The Narrow Land is quite an extraordinary novel, one that captivated me from the beginning, one that I did not want to end. It is a work of literary fiction, one that I am delighted to have read and one that will happily grace my bookshelves for years to come.

The Narrow Land is a modern classic, a book that will intrigue and compel, a book that will entice and seduce, a book to savor, a book to appreciate.

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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