A Novel by Colum McCann
2013 / 304 Pages
TransAtlantic is a sprawling, highly ambitious novel, spanning three centuries and numerous characters.
We start with great excitement, as a pair of (real-life historically) adventurers set off to fly their plane from Canada to Ireland.
We move on to a visit to Ireland by abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
We visit with Senator George Mitchell (also real) as he tried to help broker peace in Northern Ireland.
More importantly to the story, we meet the women in and around these men’s lives. It is they who form the string connecting the parts of the novel. Mother, daughter, grand-daughter appear, and they provide most of the “Aha!” moments that make TransAtlantic feel a bit like a scavenger hunt – and there is pleasure in making the connections.
Now the negatives. The first half of the book, as described above, was quite exciting. The first-hand perspective on the flight, Frederick Douglass’ internal dialog, and (matriarch of the story) Lily are fascinating. Unfortunately, when we get to the second half and focus on Emily, Lottie, and later, Hannah, things bog down.
Perhaps it’s too much to ask that the pace of the first half of the story be kept up, but the women’s stories play out very slowly, sometimes agonizingly so. And there is much agonizing, as they are strong yet tragic figures.
It’s a book I’m glad I read, though one that frustrated me. I do not think it will win the Man Booker prize, but it deserved the Longlisting.
This review was cross-posted to 40gigsAndAMule.