AS IT IS IN HEAVEN by Niall Williams


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An appealing romantic tale about the love of an introverted schoolteacher for a beautiful Italian musician: from the Irish author of several popular nonfiction books as well as the highly praised novel Four Letters of Love (1997). In a wistful voice that’s somewhat reminiscent of William Trevor’s understated stories of modest lives in crisis and conflict, Williams fashions a compelling narrative that evolves from the separate consciousness of several thoughtfully dreamy souls. Lanky and nondescript 30ish Stephen Griffin is a history teacher whose self-effacing loneliness becomes transfigured by his fascination with Gabriella Castoldi, a violinist who falls in love with Ireland while performing there and settles not far from Stephen’s hometown. His father Philip is a widower dying of cancer but still mourning the accidental deaths of his wife and daughter long ago—and “bargaining” with God to allow him enough life to help his son through the passion that Philip intuitively recognizes as the reincarnation of his own romantic devotion. The vacillating interrelations, intimacies, and disappointments of these three are neatly related to the lives of people they variously encounter, including a kindly Indian doctor unavoidably estranged from his own family and a preternaturally wise greengrocer who believes in the healing powers of fresh produce. There’s a lot to like—and more than a little to gag on—in this whimsical story, which is both enriched by stunning metaphor (—trees stiffened in the long arthritis of brutal weathering—) and burdened with treacly summarizations (—Stephen and Gabriella loved and lived in a sweet innocence and ate their meals and listened to music and played chess—). Williams’s faux-naive prose draws you in, all right, but his penchant for homiletic simplification and touchy-feely sentimentality may make you begin enraptured by the tale’s clarity of folktale and finish stupefied by the formulaic smugness of pop fiction at its most fulsome.

Pub Date: July 2nd, 1999
ISBN: 0-446-52548-0
Page count: 384pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1999


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