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The Nature of Water and Air Paperback – May 2, 2001

4 out of 5 stars 53 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Combining elements of a gothic novel and a folktale, this lyrical coming-of-age debut is set in a luminous Ireland. Clodagh Sheehy, who narrates the story in a poised, clear-eyed manner, is the stronger of twins born to teenage Agatha. A former tinker, Agatha grew up on the west coast as wild as a "selkie," or sea sprite. After her husband's untimely death, she inhabits uneasily a decrepit estate house by the sea with her daughters and the pious housekeeper, Mrs. O'Dare. When the weaker twin dies at age five, Agatha rejects Clodagh and begins frequenting the tinker camps again, visiting her mysterious lover there. When she is 13, Clodagh, still hungry for her mother's love, yet unsparing in her judgment of her, dispassionately watches as Agatha commits suicide by walking into the sea. "It seemed to be the nature of water and air, to be random, heartless," she thinks. The novel is paced with gentle insistence, tracing Clodagh's journey from her harsh convent education into young adulthood. She becomes an accomplished pianist, but her ill-fated passion for a copper-haired tinker, Angus Kilheen, leads her to give up her music. McBride, an American poet and teacher, lyrically describes the dramatic sea-swept landscape of Ireland. Occasionally, however, she veers into portentous sentimentality, identifying Agatha repeatedly with the selkie myth. The essential tragedy here is not so much the discovery by Clodagh of her father's true identity though McBride handles the complicated plot line with fluid tenderness but the girl's abandonment of her musical gift. Finely wrought and deeply felt, the novel is a work of supercharged imagination, in which the presence of sea spirits, ghosts and the dire workings of fate contribute to an atmosphere of brooding mystery. Agent, Regula Noetzli. 5-city author tour.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

This debut novel, set on the wild cliffs of the Irish coast, is the story of young Clodagh and her mysterious mother, Agatha, who was raised a tinker (traveling gypsy) but who was rumored to be a selkie, a mythical Irish creature from the sea a seal turned human temptress. Agatha had married a wealthy young man and bore him twin girls, of which Clodagh is the surviving child. As Clodagh grows into womanhood, she tries to unravel her mother's secrets, becoming involved with a captivating tinker man named Angus and learning more than she bargained for in chasing the dreams of her mother's life. McBride is an award-winning poet, and her novel is lyrical and sad, infused with fascinating folklore and the chill of the Irish landscape. A literary Maeve Binchy; recommended for public libraries. Beth Gibbs, Davidson, NC
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; Original ed. edition (May 2, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743203232
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743203234
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,366,829 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I was intrigued by this book, which is one of the reasons I bought it. It's a well written story about one woman's struggle to understand herself, her mother and life.
From the very opening of the book, when Clodagh says "My mother was never easy in the world of houses. She was a tinker, a traveler girl who had married a wealthy man. Her name was Agatha Sheehy...There are silences all around my mother's story.", you get an insight into Clodagh's personality too. While she is describing her mother's flighty ways, you get the feeling that Clodagh wants to have her mother be more attentive. At one point, Agatha tells Clodagh "you want to be in my skin with me" and you understand how close Clodagh really wants to be with her mother. A little further into the novel, you are with Clodagh as her mother commits suicide. From then on, the story is less about Agatha Sheehy and more about Clodagh Sheehy. From the trials of being a teenager going into puberty and learning about herself as a woman, to finding a man she is irrestitably attracted to, this book covers all aspects of relationships. Near the end, it took an unexpected turn that was not at all foreshadowed earlier in the book, so it was a good surprise. I was stunned, and then found myself hoping that it would change (and it did). It kept me on the edge of my chair until I had finished reading it. This story is surely one that will last and will have you thinking and re-thinking about your relationships.
Regina McBride has written a haunting novel. This is her first novel, and I'd have to say it is probably one of the better written ones I've read.
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Format: Paperback
It is a beautifully written book with lyrical tones ~~ almost as if it was written to a tune of a piano. Some places are soft and gentle then it comes crashing down with the heavy tomes of truth and finishes with a clash of joy. It's not your typical reading.
Clodagh is a young woman who have spent the years of her life looking for something that was missing from her life. Her twin, Mare, died when she was a child. Agatha, her mother, was distant and aloof with Clodagh and Clodagh never felt that her mother loved her. So when Agatha died, Clodagh found her solace in music ~~ playing the piano. Only that didn't fulfill her for long and she falls in love with a man who somehow holds the clue to her mother's past.
Clodagh is a complex character ~~ you can't help but feel her anguish when she searches for what she is looking for. You can't help but admire her tenacity to hold onto life even at its darkest moments. She is a strong and yet weak character traveling between two worlds ~~ one of life and one of death.
This is an interesting book ~~ but don't expect it to be a light and fluffy read like my usual reads have been. It's full of dark underlying tones that makes you either uncomfortable or anxious to explore it. It was hard for me to keep reading on some pages because it was so dark ~~ depressing almost. But I can guarantee that you will want to finish this book and find out what has happened to Clodagh. She is a character that you will not soon forget.
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Format: Paperback
Spanning the twenty years from 1960 to 1981, we enter the timeless magic of Ireland, a story that could take place now or in almost another century. Clodaugh Sheehy straddles two worlds, that of the genteel and that of the tinker (people sometimes referred to as Ireland's gypsies).
Even before Clodaugh's birth, events are set in motion that will determine her own destiny. Once Frank Sheehy, the frail- hearted father dies, Clodaugh's aunts can no longer abide his wife, the wild tinker woman, Agatha, and they banish her from the West of Ireland to their empy house on the eastern coast, where she gives birth to twin daughters, the feisty precocious Clodaugh, and a sickly sister, Mary, called Mare. Agatha likes pretty dresses and trinkets, but she also likes to roam near the sea and out in the fields, seeking the campfires and caravans of the tinkers she lived with as a girl until she met Frank Sheehy. Clodaugh and Mare are mostly left to their own devices except for the kindly care of a house servant, Mrs. O'Dare. At age five, Mare dies, and the distraught and lonely Clodaugh abandons for a time the piano they played together, feels Mare inside herself at times, and wants to cleave even more strongly to her mother. However, when Agatha walks into the sea for the last time, Clodaugh is now truly alone and has to grow up. She gives up her belief in ghosts and selkies, tries to forget Agatha and Mare, and attends the convent school, where she proves herself to be an accomplished musician on the piano. She goes on to win a prestigious award at college and her destiny seems secure and certain until the call of the tinker life and in particular, the chance meeting with a copper-haired man named Angus threatens to undermine everything.
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By A Customer on April 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
The lure of the Irish tale weaves its way into the hearts and minds of even the Irish. The Nature of Water and Air paints a picture of the beauty of Ireland and its stories. One cannot resist reading further as the stage is set with ancient Irish lore interwoven with modern Ireland.
Clodagh, the narrator is a girl with a troubled life. Her situation is not ideal, and one forgets when this story is set. The timelessness of Irish folklore is evident in Clodagh's own story. Her life is shrouded in myth and confusion, secrecy and lies. A coming of age tale, with an entirely different setting-- this book will move you.
The nature of the Irish story is always mystery. The Nature of Water and Air definitely follows this idea. Clodagh is curious, she wants to understand her past, a past that is so secreted by her family. McBride manages to take tragedy and interweave it with Catholic culture, Pagan ritual, and Irish legend. The web created by this is an Irish story on all levels of Irish culture and history. Each step delving further into each, until one realizes it is truly the nature of water and air that drive the Irish tale.
McBride has a gift for creating despair. The prose she creates whisks you into a depressing, confusing life. However, even in the darkest of times, Clodagh perseveres and wades through her life with a true strength of character.
The Nature of Water and Air is truly a gift to be shared. A brilliant first novel for McBride and truly a great read. I look forward to reading many more by McBride.
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