As dense with fable and mystery as the Irish coast, The Nature of Water and Air is the work of a poet whose images are cast in the clothes of her luminous prose. The recurring theme throughout is of love and death, the bonds of attachment and the anguish of loss. Here is a tale so seductive as to draw the reader ever closer to the line between mythology and truth, where life is divided between reality and the song of the sea, to those ragged places where all is revealed. "It seemed to be the nature of water and air, to be random, heartless". But Regina McBride's work is neither random, nor heartless.
Indeed, the young Clodagh lives in thrall of her beautiful if distant mother, Agatha Sheehy, one come from the world of itinerant tinkers, who listens carefully to the call of the wild land where they live, at the edge of the sea. Agatha's actions are shrouded with secrecy and sexual intimation, and she drifts just beyond her daughter's knowing, unwilling to be caught by time or place.
Clodagh's fragile twin sister, Mare, has died, and the girl wills Mare to remain, if only as her other half, the opposite coin of her identity. She plays the piano one-handed, leaving the other part, the other hand, for Mare, and shares her innermost fears, sometimes staring into the cloudy mirror, hoping for a glimpse of her "other" self. Their father, Frank Sheehy, dies before the twin's birth, and Clodagh desperately clings to the only person left alive: her mother. But, like the mythological selkie, half-seal, half-woman, Agatha returns to the depths of the sea, unwilling to remain in this world, unable to meet the needs of her surviving daughter. Cut adrift and friendless but for a loving housekeeper, Clodagh begins a journey toward self-discovery, often tangled between the worlds of reality and superstition. In reaching out to identify the face of her mother, Clodagh discovers the truth of herself. Her adolescence is often painful and life changing, her passion for music frequently the only solace. Away at convent school or living with her paternal aunts, this is a world where Clodagh cannot find a place. Clodagh's dead father Frank, her possibly real father, a tinker, and her own early foray into sexuality are without meaning until she allows the woman inside to break free and claim own identity.
McBride's novel is flooded with images, page after page, opening windows that may only exist in this magic land, Ireland. The vast canvas of such rugged, gorgeous geography serves as the background for dreams and emotions as tumultuous and changeable as the storm-tossed waves that beat along the coast. This author has accomplished more than storytelling; she has opened my imagination to the true nature of Ireland, the very nature of water and air.