Time has already stopped for Stephen Griffin when he moves into the little house by the sea. Twenty-eight years old and haunted by death, the tall, awkward, shy schoolteacher is Content to care for his father in Dublin and let life pass him by.
Then a miracle appears: a string ensemble from Venice and, with it, a violinist named Gabriella Castoldi. Even though the worldly, beautiful musician seems incapable of giving her heart, love seizes Stephen Griffin ... unbidden and shaking every particle of his spirit.
Stephen's ailing father sees it and fears for his naive son. Nelly Grant, the green-grocer, predicted it and welcomes its sheer joy. Moses Mooney, the blind musician, has sensed its coming. None, however, can envision the depth and consequence of this union. For Gabriella will change not only Stephen's life but, in the deepest sense, the lives of everyone around them.
"As It Is In Heaven" evokes the magical essence of romance and its miraculous ability to grace even the darkest lifewith light. Splendidly crafted and charged with poignancy, it firmly establishes Niall Williams as a master storyteller in the grand tradition of Irish literature.
Williams, a gifted Irish writer, was known only for nonfiction until his first novel Four Letters of Love reaped a chorus of praise (including a PW Best Books accolade) a couple of years ago. Now he has tried to repeat the trick, but unfortunately the freshness that leaped from the pages has become mere practiced calculation. His hero, Stephen Griffin, is a dim young man declining into premature senility as a history teacher, whose life is transformed by the rather improbable arrival of a beautiful but deeply unhappy young Italian violinist, Gabriella Castoldi, to play a concert at a little West Ireland hotel. Griffin is struck dumb with passion; since symptoms of magic realism abound, smells of white lilies and a general glowing aura convince those around him he is in love. Gabriella, emerging from an unhappy affair, decides to stay on in Ireland; Griffin meets her again and they have a fling; she goes back to Venice and finds she is pregnant; he follows but cannot find her; she comes back; finally, they carry out the wishes of an old blind seafarer (shades of Under Milk Wood's Captain Cat) and build a beautiful little music school by the sea. Williams is a felicitous phrasemaker, and he conjures up some lovely poetic images of weather and seascapes. Passages about the ineffable beauty of music and the emotional impact it can have are touching. But the sense of delighted surprise that was so constant in Letters is notably absent; the story is far more rigidly structured, and the characters, from Stephen's poor dad dying of cancer and trying to give his money away, to a chirpy lady who keeps a greengrocer shop and knows what fruits to sell for all ills of the heart, are tired clich s. There are pleasures here for those who enjoy the equivalent of a beautifully photographed, sad movie, but Williams had seemed capable of much more. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club alternates; author tour.