Literary Fiction

From a Low and Quiet Sea – Donal Ryan

23 July 2018
From a Low and Quiet Sea Book Cover From a Low and Quiet Sea
Donal Ryan
22 Mar 2018

Farouk’s country has been torn apart by war.

Lampy’s heart has been laid waste by Chloe.

John’s past torments him as he nears his end.

The refugee. The dreamer. The penitent. From war-torn Syria to small-town Ireland, three men, scarred by all they have loved and lost, are searching for some version of home. Each is drawn towards a powerful reckoning, one that will bring them together in the most unexpected of ways.


There are so many personality facets on display that are wonderfully captured and animated in Donal Ryan’s writing style. It deserves to be applauded. The mixed emotions of empathy, distaste and concern for the different characters, gives you a full-on emotional experience. There are three very different characters (Farouk, Lampy and John) each tainted by life’s obstacles amidst their hopes and dreams. Farouk, is a refugee fleeing with his family from Syria, Lampy, is a young man struggling to come to terms with his life’s plans, and John, a man that has stooped to horrible depths of morality and wickedness, finally hopes for redemption. Nothing is black and white, as we also see the reasons why each man has made decisions and struggled with what fate had in store for him.

The insights into different family situations are very well captured and in a world where nothing is straightforward the narrative deals with a lot of psychological elements and how we can be kind yet hurtful, selfless and selfish, and always complicated. This is a real roller-coaster of a ride from moments of deep despair to situations of comedy and witty dialogue, especially with Lampy’s grandfather. The Irish dialogue and sense of humour are precious. 🙂

The rationale for the 3 storylines coming together at the end, is tenuous, in terms of any plot or big surprise event. It’s more to show the interaction between people, how close our lives can connect with others and you never know the impact we have on the world around us. As the book draws to a close it reminds us that the varying experiences of life and interactions are all part of living, regardless of our individual stories.

My only criticism is that I found it difficult to follow the narrative at times, as there would be instant jumps in time either because of memories or switching to other periods to provide background. I had to re-read various section several times, so you do need to pay attention and focus, which can interrupt the flow.

So much more could be said here about each character as they are wonderfully portrayed, but I imagine and hope readers will take time to reflect on the characterisation and for reading clubs this will be a great book to discuss and dissect.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Random House UK, Transworld Publishers for an ARC version of the book in return for an honest review.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley

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