Seven Steeples by Sara Baume: Leaving the world behind

Cover image for Seven Steeples by Sara BaumeFollowing on from her non-fiction handiwork, described as a ‘sister publication’ by the publishers, Sara Baume’s Seven Steeples is the latest in what I hope will be a continuing line of excellent books by Irish women writers this reading year. It spans eight years in the lives of Bell and Sigh who move into an already neglected house in the shadow of a mountain they vow to climb.

Between the new green, lights come out; yellow dots disarranged by the wind such that, in the full brightness of day, the gorse appeared to be twinkling.

Bell and Sigh are in the early days of their relationship. They agree on most things, both tending towards the solitary and misanthropic to the extent they decide to move out of the city, not so much severing their ties with friends and family but letting them fray and fade. Each of them has a dog: Voss the terrier and Pip the lurcher. Together they form the only family they need. They move their meagre belongings into the house, making use of what’s already there, quietly accept the cheery farmer’s greetings and settle in. Soon a routine is established: walking the dogs, visiting the nearby town for essentials, avoiding attempts at conversation with the locals. The years wear on: nature repeats its cycle; the house deteriorates further; Bell and Sigh continue their almost ceaseless conversation; Voss busies himself with pointless chasing sitting on Pip when he’s done. Their eighth Christmas is a tough one, freezing temperatures and snow, but in January they finally climb the mountain, looking down on the house in which they’ve passed so many years becoming ever closer to each other and ever more distant from the world.

They thought they were taking the dogs out; the dogs thought they were taking them out.

Written in the poetic, almost musical language I remembered from her debut, Spill Simmer, Falter, Wither, Seven Steeples is a quietly brilliant novel filled with so many quotable passages I could easily have devoted an entire review to them. The descriptive writing is richly imaginative, the natural world vividly summoned up, while Bell and Sigh’s impracticality and inability to make decisions is portrayed with an affectionate gentle humour. Voss and Pip are a treat, as striking in their eccentricities as their owners – readers who fret about the fate of fictional dogs need have no worries here. Little happens in this brief novel delivered in short episodic, paragraphs but it draws you into its rhythm echoing the seasons with those gorgeous descriptive word pictures. An idiosyncratic piece of writing which should please Baume fans. It certainly did me.

Tramp Press: Dublin 9781916291485 254 pages Paperback

13 thoughts on “Seven Steeples by Sara Baume: Leaving the world behind”

  1. Ooh I loved Handiwork so how intriguing that this is a ‘sister book’. I think I’ll give Handiwork a re-read and then get to this one too. I’m delighted also to read that she has written other novels too, which I’ll definitely be investigating. Thanks Susan, wishing you a great Wednesday! X

  2. The evocative language and nature descriptions were lovely but the descriptions of the continually deteriorating state of their home sanctuary had me reaching for dust cloth and mop in my imagination.

  3. This sounds so interesting. And our library has copies – Excellent. Thanks for another brilliant recommendation.

  4. Pingback: 6 More Books That Were Not For Me…BUT Could Be For You! – The Shelf of Unread Books

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