... glacially beautiful ... I am almost certain it’s a ghost story, but it’s a novel that gives up its secrets warily ... I believe this novel will mean profoundly different things to different readers, because its own presiding spirit is surely Elizabeth Bishop, who worked so carefully at keeping feeling unspoken under the surface of her poetry, only revealing the heart through the physical world: she understood that emotion would shine out through detail, through specific, close observation. As if in tribute, Baume offers up an astonishing prose poem that keeps close religiously and lovingly to the physical throughout ... Bell, the female character, has a habit of 'touching things to draw blessedness out of them', and this is absolutely what Baume is doing throughout ... haunting and dreamlike and wonderful to read ... powerfully recalls the middle act of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, that heart-stoppingly moving depiction of time passing through an empty house, of loss accumulating ... At the novel’s end, Baume finally sends her protagonists up the mountain they live on, a climb they’ve been meaning to get round to for seven years. Looking back at their house with them, I felt I was given a revelation of what had been going on all this time – but what I saw will be very different from how the story looks in the eyes of others. That is the magic and the brilliance of this haunting, fathomlessly sad book.
Where a conventional novel might linger in the newness of the union, the strangeness of the move, most of the action in Seven Steeples is summarised in a matter of pages, the messy business of character and back story dispensed with in one striking sentence...It takes a writer of quality and courage to make narrative choices like this. Fans of Baume will know her to be both ... There is something both idyllic and apocalyptic about the scenario, which is ably rendered through an objective, unemotive tone, enlivened by Baume’s ethereal prose. The narrative style is unintrusive, a camera lens panning the surrounding world and recording the wonders of nature, before contrasting this with the clutter that can fill up a life; Marie Kondo meets literary fiction ... The lack of a plot, as such, will undoubtedly not appeal to some readers. But in another way, if plot is the causal chain that connects characters and events, then Seven Steeples is nothing but plot, which is to say the delineation of the daily life of a couple who have chosen to escape from society ... Baume is an original, and Seven Steeples is a unique book that asks the reader to think about the possibility of a world of one’s own.
In Sara Baume’s Sevem Steeples, a pair of 'solitary misanthropes' named Isabel and Simon, or Bell and Sigh, leave Dublin for a decrepit rental house in a rural patch of southern Ireland ... With calm scrutiny and a vividly beautiful poetic touch, Ms. Baume describes the world they come to inhabit ... The easy strain of music in that brief litany is characteristic of Ms. Baume’s writing, as is the image of messy interconnectedness. In time, habit and isolation turn Bell and Sigh and their dogs into a kind of ungainly single organism specifically adapted to their narrow surroundings. No story is imposed on this gradual evolution (or devolution, perhaps). Ms. Baume only means to see it, and to make us see it as well, in all its oddness and silliness and tender fragility. She succeeds wonderfully.
Decay and neglect are the constant themes, and the descriptions are gorgeous. Line by line, Seven Steeples is one of the most beautiful novels I have ever read. But what’s strange is the utter lack of subtext. Usually, landscape indirectly illustrates the interior life of the characters and furthers the drama. But in Seven Steeples, there is absolutely no conflict between these two characters. By the end, Bell and Sigh have become one, 'a sole life,' undifferentiated. And though we are told that 'Bell and Sigh had been thoroughly infected by each other’s way of speaking. … By their seventh year, they spoke in a dialect of their own unconscious creation,' we never hear an exchange of dialogue between them ... Ultimately, the author seems to have fallen into a dangerous trap: being caught by an idea ... It’s just not true that two people can become one, and the novel feels limited by this conceit, which has the effect of shutting out the reader entirely. We know the minutiae of these lives in absolutely exquisite physical detail, but only in physical detail ... Baume’s descriptions of landscape are lovelier than I can express; you simply have to read them yourself. She is a poet who elevates the novel, on a linear level, to something higher. But I wish all these descriptions could have been anchored in drama and activated to mirror interior lives. Instead, they are beautiful, subtextless nothings. In that way, too, in lacking sustained drama, the author is a poet.
... intense and labyrinthine ... [Baume's] fourth book and with it she digs a hole ever deeper into the unknown, the mystical, sinister, curious and unpopular, lacing the scenes with her signature absurdist humour ... Baume writes with beauty and precision about the natural world, particularly animals, but extracts no joy. Here is a writer engaging with our environment without celebrating it; Seven Steeples is more a dirge than a hymn to our planet ... was written before the lockdowns of our pandemic but it dramatises exactly that feeling of banishment; though, unlike most of us, Bell and Sigh choose their fate ... Throughout the wilfully boring scenes of this anti-entertainment, I kept waiting for something to happen, like a kiss, a fight or a strange visit. When it did not, I was disappointed. The total effacement of character becomes hard to stomach and I felt, by the end of 250 pages, that the text certainly could have withstood a little love between its lonely stick-person souls ... What happens to Bell and Sigh is a nightmare of monogamy, a dismal transubstantiation of boy and girl and dogs into one hybrid being. Becoming one is the ultimate romantic project and here it is achieved yet in a perverse, almost terrifying example ... makes for a masterpiece you won’t enjoy — a brave and challenging new experiment from an author who has never aimed to please or entertain. It is no page-turner, and its conclusion may haunt those inclined to millenarianism or everyday despair. Happy reading.
Baume leads readers through eight years of the couple’s life together as they neglect most of modern society and build a deep, rich domestic life. Lush imagery and poetic punctuation choices are ever-present in Seven Steeples, appealing to fans of Paulette Jiles and Geraldine Brooks. Charting the path between independence and dependence, self-reliance and self-interest, Baume sets readers down in a near-untamed wilderness and shrinks the world down to a garden, a cabin, and its profoundly resilient occupants.
Every aspect of the flora and fauna they observe on their daily walks is described in language so mesmerizing that even a bird poo stain on laundry becomes a work of art. As the years pass, their comical neglect of the most basic details of daily living binds these two sweet misanthropes ever closer together ... Award-winning novelist Baume’s gifts as a visual artist can be seen not only in the poetry of her majestic words but also in her creative use of spacing that enhances this lovely novel that is made for this time in history of pandemic-triggered isolation.