CURRENT ISSUE:  August 2023

Off the Shelf: Haven by Emma Donoghue

Off the Shelf: Haven
By Emma Donoghue
@2022 Little Brown and Company ISBN 978-1-5290-9111-3 257 pp.
Review by Terrence J. Kenneally

In this novel of religious discovery set in the seventh century, three Irish monks make a fraught with danger journey, from their monastery at Clonmacnoise on the River Shannon to Skellig Michael (Great Skellig), a craggy rock formation in the Atlantic off the coast of County Kerry. The novel opens at Clonmacnoise, a relatively new monastery with about three dozen monks.

Not 200 years have passed since St. Patrick converted the island to Christianity. Artt, a learned priest recently returned from afar, arrives at the monastery bringing with him new and uncompromising notions of how a monk should live, which is contra to how he finds the community living.

It is to the relief of the abbot that Artt soon announces his departure because God has visited him in a dream, where he tells of a solitary island “far away, in the western ocean.” God’s instructions are that he must take only two companions. Artt’s island proves to be a place for which nothing could have prepared them.

Skellig Michael may be familiar to some from its’s appearances in the Star War movies. It is also spectacularly photographed from the air in the recent Omnimax film, “Ireland,” narrated by Liam Neeson.

The challenges – what to eat, where to sleep – are exacerbated by Artt’s fanatical insistence that they immediately build a stone church and begin copying the Bibles. The result is a story trapped in a small space, completely cut off from the world.

In the drama that unfolds here, though, Donoghue returns to the radical minimalism of 2010 s Room. The two works share striking similarities: two characters struggle to preserve their humanity in utter isolation while appeasing an implacable captor (Artt).

The denouement of the book is surprising yet gratifying. Haven is the fourth Donoghue book this writer has read and reviewed for iIrish. My only criticism is that her prose tends to be too attentive to detail. None the less, Haven is a TOP SHELF read.

*Terrence J. Kenneally is an attorney and owner of The Kenneally Law Firm in Rocky River, Ohio. He received a Masters Degree in Irish Literature from John Carroll University and has taught Irish literature and history.

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