A beautiful, tragic book ... Barry is a poet and playwright as well as a novelist, and lyricism and drama jostle in nearly all his sentences, many of which are stuffed to bursting ... The novel’s ending is a dramatic exploration of the possibility of atonement. One cannot say for sure whether his putative redemption is 'verifiably' real or fantastical, but there can be no doubt about how Tom feels. The final pages are ravishing.
A relentlessly bleak, stunning novel about how the effects of violence and abuse can reverberate for years and across generations ... Barry has always had a gift for creating memorable characters, and Tom is one of his most fascinating ones, in large part because of his unreliability ... Barry's prose is, as usual, wonderful. The writing, at times, borders on stream of consciousness ... It likely goes without saying that Old God's Time can be immensely, almost physically painful to read ... A powerful, painful novel, another excellent offering from Barry, who is clearly one of the best Irish writers working today.
It is typical of Barry, a writer of almost Joycean amplitude, that this essentially tragic tale should be packed with moments of comedy and joy ... Barry’s artistry is such that you can read almost the entire book without realizing an essential fact about Miss McNulty and her son: they are ghosts, of a kind ... The best way to understand Kettle may be as an eccentric portrait of Sebastian Barry, a writer of historical fiction who has described himself as a sort of human radio, picking up frequencies from the long ago. In Old God’s Time, those frequencies carry the music of Kettle’s abundant inner life ... Barry’s casually exquisite prose, capable of lyrical expansion but always firmly rooted in the dialect of the tribe, seems to capture them all ... A great demotic aria to existence, which, for all its grief and abjection, he sees as something full of grace.
On its face, this is a standard cold-case crime novel. But when we learn of the extraordinary tragedies Tom has endured, it's clear that Barry... is up to something more ambitious ... Barry has a gift for concise image-making... and an irreverent eye for sensory pleasures ... But his overreliance on lyrical prose leads to some unaccountably grand depictions of common occurrences ... On the big stuff, however — his understanding of, and empathy for, his protagonist and their country — Barry doesn't falter.
I was reminded of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, which is also full of uncertainty as to who is alive and who is not. This gives to Barry’s novel a kind of shimmer and motility some will find attractive (I did), and others a source of frustration ... Barry writes about this with compassion and quiet rage. He has a high style, though one tethered to the demotic and homely (as befits a protagonist called Kettle). There are lovely sentences...and the novel, for all its grimness, can be very funny.
A kind of writing so rare and accomplished that it seems to erase the very nuts and bolts of its own construction ... Barry skilfully leads the reader gently and slowly into Tom’s imaginative world, a place of great humour as well as great sadness ... Even on second reading it is hard to unravel the “true” story of what Tom has experienced, and this is entirely cognate with the corroding effects of trauma on memory ... All of this could make a good story in another writer’s hands; what elevates this novel is Barry’s sustained, ventriloquial, impressionistic evocation of a unique, living consciousness, which at times takes flight into immersive transports of thought, feeling and memory in which nothing is fixed beyond the simple lodestar of Tom’s love for June ... The ending is a tour de force of transcendent power and complexity. I don’t expect to read anything as moving for many years.
There are moments in Old God’s Time that will take your breath away. Thankfully, Barry matches a fearless eye for the merciless realities of life with an effortlessly poetic touch. Barry... has crafted a meditative, mournful masterpiece, with the pace of a whodunnit.
Barry’s cogent, often glossy prose looks to reproduce the backtracking of false testimony, feeding the reader dead-end leads and disinformation ... The fairytale aspects of Old God’s Time... and its dreamlike logic can frustrate and deliberately confuse: more than one descriptive passage is undermined by Kettle waking from sleep. The facts, too, become increasingly hazy, allowing for suggestive, symbolic imagery ... Ultimately, Old God’s Time is an at times woozy rendering of unstable memories and the difficulty in telling your story as it disappears 'into old God’s time', as well as a tribute to enduring love and its ability to light up the dark.
There are, as we might hope for from Barry, passages of great lyricism which set the size of the love... against the weight of the consequent grief ... The secrets when they come are on the one hand shocking, because of their brutal details, but also predictable because it’s a topic about 20th-century Ireland that’s been well explored. Nonetheless, Barry does it justice ... The speed with which developments happen in the closing stages of the book... starts to defy plausibility. Does Barry get away with it? I think he does – the cocoon of language with which he creates Tom’s world has a magical effect, gathering the reader up willingly.
Admirers of Claire Keegan and Niall Williams will appreciate the Irish humor that masks deep sorrow. This novel’s words are well chosen, the sentences dazzle, and they all come together in a beautifully told, piercingly sad story.
The novel avoids any pat responses to questions of crime and punishment, although even the dutiful cop in Kettle leans toward rough justice where the young are involved. Barry is a resourceful Irish writer with a gift for empathy and lyrical prose ... Barry’s tight focus on one retired lawman and the ghosts bedeviling him provides a compelling sense of the misery the Catholic Church knew it was causing and failed to salve.