Stay by Aislinn HunterLocal author Aislinn Hunter will soon be publishing a new novel, and her debut novel, Stay, has been adapted into a film (TIFF, 2013).

Stay follows the story of a young Canadian woman living in Ireland with an older man. Abbey, 26 years old, left her ailing father and ends up with another nearly-broken man, Dermot Fay. The novel follows both Abbey and Dermot as they make sense of their individual lives, the choices they have made, and the options before them.

The past can’t stay buried for long in this much-anticipated debut novel by Aislinn Hunter. Stay follows Abbey, a young Canadian woman living in a village outside Galway. She falls in love with Dermot, an older Irishman, in an unconventional, affectionate, but troubled relationship.

Meanwhile, an important archeological dig is happening nearby that gradually draws everyone in the village into the exhumation of a mysterious “bog person.” This unearthing of history provides a powerful counterpoint to Abbey’s own exhumation of her relationship, of her and Dermot’s old family demons and difficult pasts.

In Hunter’s deft prose, the villagers form a riotous and poignant chorus to Abbey’s struggle, commenting on their rapidly changing world with wit and insight. This beautiful, funny, richly rewarding novel plumbs history and obligation, and above all, the fragile but enduring human connections in a world poised uneasily between past and future.

From the publisher Polestar Books, imprint of Raincoast Publishing (2005). Reprinted by Anchor Canada in 2013.*

Hunter’s prose is stark, pointed, and beautiful. In cutting away any flowery language devices, the prose is precise, painting an unsentimental yet poetic depiction of the events, people, and surroundings. The dialogue is similarly sparse, yet sounds authentic to real speech.

The city goes about its business. Statues cast shadows from the boulevard and the tourists look up. People cross against the light. One car honks and then another. On O’Connell Street at a queue for the bus, Abbey reads over the list in her hand: “Things for Foreigners To Do in Dublin.” A few months back, Dermot made her an agenda. He itemized where to go, and in what order, and made a few notes underneath about what she should look for: the bullet holes on the front of the GPO, the Behan manuscripts in the Irish Writer’s Museum, Bryne’s, the best firsh and chip shop in Ireland. Against his will Abbey’d made him add the Guinness Brewery. Last month when she’d worked a week at Connor’s she went to the National Museum, Phoenix Park, Kilmanhaim Goal. [p.72]

The exploration of the characters Abbey and Dermot is paralleled by a examination of contemporary Ireland. This small town is dealing with how they fit into the modern world without losing the town’s identity. Hunter lived in Ireland and probably experienced this uncertainty firsthand; I remember a similar feeling living in England. You’re in a town that is hundreds of years old—with tombstones older than the buildings in the Canadian city where you grew up—yet this town is stuck between the past and the present, unsure how to maintain their cultural identity without getting left behind, or worse, demolished.

While I could identify with the sentiments of postmodern, postcolonial Ireland, I think the prose really was my favourite aspect of Stay. Hunter’s previous short stories and books of poetry obviously refined her writing in a unique way, giving her a distinct writing voice.

  • Stay was shortlisted for the 2003 Books in Canada/ First Novel Award
  • Stay was listed by the Globe and Mail as one of the best books of 2002
  • Visit the author’s website

* A note on the publisher: Stay was originally published in 2002 with Polestar Press. In 2000, Raincoast Books bought Polestar Books as one of their imprints. The cover image shown and description are from the 2005 edition by Raincoast. In 2008, Raincoast closed their publishing division and expanded their distribution contracts. With the novel being adapted into a film, it appears that Anchor Canada, a division of Random House Canada, has purchased the reprint rights and released a movie-tie-in edition.