I first read Away very soon after it was first published in 1993 and, on this read, was quite surprised to find that I had remembered so little. In fact, it was more a feeling that I remembered and a vision of a great white house on the shores of a lake. I also recalled a somewhat “romantic” feeling. Well, there was definitely a dreamy quality in the lives of especially one of the three women, Mary, whose story comes first and whose experience gives the book its title. Mary lived on Rathlin Island (Ireland) and 140 years before the book opens had discovered the remains of a wreck on the beach and waded through barrels of whiskey and “fifty clanking teapots” “and found an exhausted young man who, when she grabbed his shirt in her fists, opened two sea-green eyes and spoke the name Moira before falling once again into semi-consciousness.” Her mother and a priest and other islanders found her early in the afternoon “surrounded by cabbages and teapots, asleep in the arms of a dead young sailor.” “Those who looked down to the beach that morning crossed themselves and turned to Mary’s mother with compassion in their eyes. They knew, and she knew, that Mary was away.” And so it begins. It was said that “the islanders knew of the ones who lived under the waters and this abandoned body clearly belonged to one of them.”
“At first it was believed that Mary would die; that she would waste away, abandoning a body that had already been “left behind”. But this did not happen. She marries Brian and has two children, Liam and Eileen. Eileen is the second woman in the chain of three and the third is her daughter Esther who opens and closes the story. In Esther’s reflections near the end of the story we read “In this family all young girls are the same young girl and all old ladies are the same old lady.” In this statement is a secret I think that helps one figure out something of the meaning of life. I love this book much more now on the second read than on the first and much more than the big white house on the shore of a lake will remain in my memory now.