Beyond the Sea: A lucid, lyrical tale of two lost men

Book review: Paul Lynch’s spare and precise novel has a detached, almost mythical quality

 Paul Lynch: Writes with restraint and an eye for a sharp image.  Photograph: Bryan O’Brien / The Irish Times

Paul Lynch: Writes with restraint and an eye for a sharp image. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien / The Irish Times

When Bolivar, a fisherman from an unnamed South American village, hears that there is a storm coming, he ignores the warning and is determined to go out to sea. Commandeering Hector, a long-haired boy with “loose arms” and a “stooped build”, the two set out at night to fish. Full of bravado and masculine hubris (“Real men are used to this type of thing. I have not yet met a storm that is the boss of me”), Bolivar pushes onward, certain of his power over nature. In an unsurprising twist of fate, the two men are blown out to sea and must try to survive.

This is a spare and often precise novel. It attains a certain lyricism that is a testament to Lynch’s restraint and eye for a sharp image. Observing the stasis and sudden event of life on a lost boat, far at sea, it takes on a dreamlike, even hallucinatory quality towards the end, and earns this through the clarity of its vision. This is a world where time drips, holds still, rushes and seems to abandon the fishermen almost entirely. At one point, Hector says, “I am watching my life but I cannot live it. So I have decided this must be a dream. It is the only thing that makes sense to me. But what I cannot figure out is this – am I dreaming or is God dreaming it?”

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