by Maniza Naqvi
Sue Hubbard's lovingly mapped novel Rainsongs is a gentle gem of quietly shimmering intellect. I read it twice to savor its sense of place. It is rooted in the abstractions of land and memory, the magical thinking of a bereaved woman.
Hubbard's expressive talent is in full display through her descriptions of the south western Irish landscape of Kerry, so that the reader feels a sense of belonging and a resonance with its emotional and social fabric. I read this book the week before the year changed, curled up in bed, tucked in against the winters bone-chilling cold outside, deeply aware that I was savoring a rarity, seeing through words a remote land. Seeing it through the eyes of the main character, Martha Cassidy who, herself not Irish, has returned after a period of decades of absence.
In the end of December 2007 Martha Cassidy is a woman in mourning who returns to her late husband's cottage in search of solace from grief. Rainsongs approaches the peril and remoteness of relief through the certitude of both storm and calm and its attendant pain on the journey towards consolation. Martha is a beautiful, mature-minded, self-assured woman in her fifties, focused on her own inner journey. Yet she is neither weak nor in need of comforting or saving. And perhaps because of her demeanor, is orbited by men who knew her husband and, as in the case of the young poet-musician, Colm Nolan, is the same age as her son.
Driving rain and wind are the song and silence of the inner drama where Rainsongs will take you. That place within yourself of sorrows, solitudes and solaces, the spaces you have been through, the ones you are passing through, the ones you surely will go through. That place is lit up momentarily like a revelation, then gone and, in the novel, searched out metaphorically through the beam of a lighthouse – beckoning, saving, warning – on Skellig island as it sweeps across the darkened sea and landscape on Bolus Head and shines into the room in the cottage where Martha sleeps. Periodically, as if a monitor for a heartbeat.