The Nature of Water and Air by Regina McBride

Emily White of the New York Times Book Review says “Regina McBride writes in a shimmering and often hypnotic prose style, one that’s full of incantatory repetition…The Nature of Water and Air has an urgent melancholy about it — it casts an undeniable spell.”

I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I thought McBride managed to capture a particular time and place (1970s Ireland) extremely well. I was intrigued by the book’s opening lines: “There are silences all around my mother’s story.” But in some intangible way, I felt that the novel failed me.

The narrator of The Nature of Water and Air is Clodagh, a sensitive, intelligent girl whose life is touched by tragedy. Clodagh and her twin sister, Mare, live with Agatha, their emotionally distant mother, and Mrs. O’Dare, their housekeeper, in a crumbling manor house. Agatha is not a traditional mother- before she “settled” she was a tinker- part of a sub-culture of people who traveled in caravans, selling bits and pieces and camping in fields. What little affection Agatha does manage to share goes to Mare, who is very ill and subsequently dies. Clodagh spends the rest of her young childhood watching her mother from behind corners and through windows.

It is difficult to say much more about this book without spoiling some of its revelations.

McBride is a poet and it’s apparent in her prose. Her writing is lyrical and often quite lovely, but it also occasionally stands in the way of the narrative. While I can’t say that I loved this book, I certainly appreciated McBride’s talent. And in the end, despite some of the questions I had, I felt satisfied by the time I had spent with Clodagh.

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