The Night Stages by Jane Urquhart

Some sample passages from Night Stages which, hopefully, will entice you to read it for yourself:

“There is a black-and-white photograph of Kenneth standing in sunlight beside a prairie railway station. He is loose-limbed and smiling, happy maybe, or at least unconcerned about the journey he seems poised to take.”

“But Kenneth is older than he looks in this image: he has already taken and abandoned several points of view. He has been to Paris, Milan, Madrid.”

“In spite of how things may look, this is a photo of arrival, one taken just after disembarkation, when the airport mural was still bright and alive in his mind, the paint on it hardly dry.”

‘Kenneth’s shadow is a thin ghost on the quay. But there are thousands and thousands of miles inside him.”   (pages 3 – 5)

“Tam recalls the bright new American aircraft she had sometimes been instructed to pick up at Prestwick in Scotland: Mosquitos often, or Lancasters. Those planes had set out for the transatlantic part of the journey from the lace that is now directly below her, as Ferry Command had been situated at Gander. She had always wanted to pilot a transatlantic flight, but it was understood that no woman would ever be invited to do so, regardless of her skills or accomplishments, so the idea of Gander had remained a vague point of intersection to her…”  (pages 11 & 12)

“…she stands at the end of the hall outside the washroom and gazes across the passenger lounge toward a colourful wall, only a part of which is visible from this vantage point. She wonders if what she sees is a large map, but as she walks into the room itself it becomes clear to her that she is looking at an enormous painting: oranges and greens and blues.” She turns to look out the window at the airliner then “turns away from the window back to the mural.” Info re Gander mural

“Niall had been born in a market town on the Iveragh Peninsula of County Kerry – the Kingdome, he called it – and except for university and a handful of years working for the Meteorology Service in Dublin, he had never lived anywhere else…Niall had himself once made the journey to America, seeking his brother. He had bought a ticket to New York and spent his holidays tramping through the streets of that city from flophouse to flophouse. …So Niall too would have spent some time in this airport…he would have heard the hollow sound of his footsteps on these aluminum stairs, the slap of his shoes on this damp tarmac.”  (pages 12 – 14)

“The house where Niall’s brother had been raised still stood near the heathery slopes of Garanne…the brother had lived there in his later childhood, and into young manhood under the care of the country woman that Niall would refer to as Kieran’s Other Mother, and was happy there, Niall had said, in a way he had never been in his own home.” (page 23)

“During the first year after his mother’s death in the autumn of 1943, things had come to an impasse regarding Kieran. He had spent the previous six months avoiding school and collapsing into rages whenever anyone suggested he do anything at all…the father of the boys became prematurely old and absent…coming and going from the house more often now that there was no woman in it, Gerry-Annie watched the child’s behaviour with a look of disapproval but said nothing.She had no children of her own but came from a family of eleven…it was Annie who made the decision…(after several weeks of no tantrums) she approached the boys’ father in the courteous manner that was natural to a country woman, but without a hint of deference to the fact that she was employed by him. “I’ll be taking himself home with me,” she said. “It’s for the best. ”   (pages 75- 81)

“It’s my doing,” he said flatly, “all of it.”
“How could it be, Niall?” She recalled him using words such as fault and loss in relation to his brother. Lost him completely, he had said.
“No,” he said now. “you can’t understand. It is my fault.”
“You don’t want to be with me,” she said. “I can understand that.”
“Oh, I want to be with you,” he said. The anger had not left his voice, but his expression was open, torn. “It’s my brother I am talking about. But I want to be with you. And this is my fault as well.”  (pages 175-176)

“She tried to conjure this rogue brother, wanted to position him on the map she was constantly revising in her mind, the map of Niall’s character. But she hadn’t enough information to make sense of this preoccupation.”  (page 176)

“Keiran’s body had changed into that of a young man, and his mind had acquired more knowledge, and therefore, a more complicated way of thinking. The Night StagesThe bicycle, however, was a source of comfort in that it could be relied upon to stay more or less the same. Kieran knew every sound it made under any condition, how the tires purred on a good road, hissed in grass on a hillside too wet and steep, really, to be negotiated, rattled when descending a stony mountain track. Some days, when he had been riding for a good length of time, the turning of the speed-blurred wheels beneath him seemed to be an extension of his own body, as if the bicycle had become an essential fifth limb. He went out riding in any kind of weather: a day without speed was for him a day when his self felt heavy and encumbered, as if he were trying to walk through slowly churning, waist-high water. And he feared that, unless he moved forward, his mother would begin to speak to him from that water.” (page 179)

“She [Tam] looks at the mural…she pictures the artist finishing up, descending from the scaffold, stepping back, and looking at the long sweep of what he had done. Something would have struck him then, a sense of loss: the knowledge of an ending. How intimate he would have been with the skin of the wall, with every inch of it…Still, he would have collected his brushes and paints. He would have climbed down from the scaffolding. ”

Urquhart’s literary mural includes the geography of Kerry, a story of two brothers and of lovers and family, the Irish Rás Tailteann the stages of which connect with the novel’s title (“night stages” refers to the socializing after the actual stages of the race), and the aircraft of World War II as well as the mural at Gander Airport and its artist and also the airport’s place in history with snippets of Irish folklore tossed into the mix as well.

I started out intending to choose passages which revealed the beauty of the writing and ended up with more passages that revealed savoury tidbits of the story and characters which might catch your interest. And so I must leave it up to you to find the other passages! Enjoy the journey!

P.S. On the back of the jacket of the hard copy, Alice Munro says “Jane Urquhart’s writing compellingly depicts the sense of place in human lives” and Claire Messud says “Urquhart has a great gift…for the melding of ideas, events and individuals into a significant whole.”

What do I say? Jane Urquhart has painted a beautiful mural.