Old God’s Time by Sebastian Barry 

Last month I had the opportunity to read the latest novel by an author whose work I have been meaning to read for so long! Published on the 2nd of March, Old God’s Time is the latest novel by Sebastian Barry, and it carried a premise that caught my attention, with the story of a man and his life and loves, and the decades old case that unlocks further memories, some of which are more welcome than others… 

Tom is a retired police officer, and as the reader is first introduced to him, we are introduced to a man who is contemplating his past, who whilst settling into a new, quiet life by the sea, is left with plenty of time to dwell upon what has passed before him. It becomes clear that he has had no shortage of challenges in his life – not unexpected for a man of his profession – but as we spend more time with him it is clear the burden he has carried on his shoulders is a lot heavier than most. Despite these challenges, Tom’s life is not devoid of joy, and one of the things that is most evident through this story is his devotion to his wife, June, with whom he is besotted. June herself is no stranger to trauma, and her memories too are marred by harrowing events from childhood that don’t make for easy reading. But somehow, despite their collective pasts and those most difficult memories that are impossible to bury, Tom and June were able to form a life together, and to start a family. Barry writes so beautifully about these emotions and Tom’s love for his wife is portrayed wonderfully. And their tragic stories, and the glimmers of light that emerge from them, those little moments of joy in the minutiae of life, are perfectly realised. 

There is a sense throughout that nothing is quite what it seems, and there is a tension to the story, and a sense of ambiguity over these events. As Tom reflects on his life, and that of his family, particularly in the context of the new details brought to light by his colleagues, I was left to ponder the power of memory, and whether the lines between the personal and professional life of Tom have become blurred, as old wounds are reopened and new ones formed. As Tom’s inquisitive mind clicks into gear with regard to this old case, the difficult memories of his past comes to the surface, and reignites strong emotions in Tom, who perhaps could be said to be seeking closure, for himself, and for those he loves and has loved. 

Old God’s Time is a beautifully written book which drew me in with Tom’s story and the intrigue surrounding his life. And as further layers of the story begin to unfold, some of which took me by surprise, I became further immersed in this novel, and its exploration of love and grief, the challenges we live through, and how we survive it. 

Old God’s Time was published on 2nd March 2023 by Faber & Faber, with thanks to Mollie at Faber for providing a copy for review. 

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