Man Booker Prize: TransAtlantic by Colum McCann

The fifth of my attack on the Man Booker Prize 2013 Longlist reads. Unfortunately this is probably the one I’ve enjoyed least so far which is a shame as it was all going so well! I was looking forward to reading this novel by Colum McCann so we’ll see.

The shortlist will be announced on 10th September and I’ve run out of longlisted novels at home so I’m not sure I’ll be able to even reach 50% before they’re announced – this makes me sad!

IrelandBefore I get going here’s a summary of the novel:

1919. Emily Ehrlich watches as two young airmen, Alcock and Brown, emerge from the carnage of the First World War to pilot the very first non-stop transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to the west of Ireland. Among the letters being carried on the aircraft is one which will not be opened for almost a hundred years. 1998. Senator George Mitchell criss-crosses the ocean in search of an elusive Irish peace. How many more bereaved mothers and grandmothers must he meet before an agreement can be reached? 1845. Frederick Douglass, a black American slave, lands in Ireland to champion ideas of democracy and freedom, only to find a famine unfurling at his feet. On his travels he inspires a young maid to go to New York to embrace a free world, but the land does not always fulfill its promises for her. From the violent battlefields of the Civil War to the ice lakes of northern Missouri, it is her youngest daughter Emily who eventually finds her way back to Ireland.

This novels spans decades, crosses oceans and introduces a wide range of interesting and intricate characters. The best feature of the novel for me is how McCann weaves the characters together, through chance meetings and other unexpected moments.

TransAtlantic has a melancholy tone about it. It deals with the idea that all world events have a connection and he ties together Ireland during the Potato Famine and the emancipation of slavery. All the characters have a reason to visit Ireland at some time or another and it’s Ireland which seems central to everything that happens.

The novel spans from 1847 to the 1990s and focuses on key characters who have for some reason of another made the journey across the Atlantic to Ireland. The characters range from emancipated slaves to US senators involved in the Good Friday agreement. There are elements of fact and history mixed in with the fiction but despite all this and all these pointers which you’d think would make the novel work for me, it didn’t.

I love Ireland and Irish history so I thought this novel would be great but it simply didn’t. He doesn’t make the places seem interesting and thought I was interested in his characters, I wasn’t desperate to find out what was going to happen next. A few snatches of brilliance occur when there are momentary flashes of action but it basically left me underwhelmed.

A shame! I’m not sure I’d read anything else by Colum McCann on this basis. However, it may be the kind of novel others can connect with so it could easily make the shortlist – shortlisted novels are NEVER the ones I like best.

Rating: ★★¾☆☆ 

Photo Credit: Ireland Attribution Some rights reserved by NASA Goddard Photo and Video