Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

As It Is in Heaven

As It Is in Heaven

4.8 5
by Niall Williams

See All Formats & Editions

Jock has always enjoyed his fertile and creative mind that would probe and challenge, seeking new pathways while rummaging in the midden heaps of history, his own as well as those of humankind. This was the kind of mind that excited me. He was unafraid to enter into new territory, to experiment and taste novel sensation. His is a fortunate blend of a scientific mind


Jock has always enjoyed his fertile and creative mind that would probe and challenge, seeking new pathways while rummaging in the midden heaps of history, his own as well as those of humankind. This was the kind of mind that excited me. He was unafraid to enter into new territory, to experiment and taste novel sensation. His is a fortunate blend of a scientific mind and an artistic temperament. These are the tools that have served both of us so well in our exploration of the subterranean depths of the individual and collective psyches of personhood . . . The sensual is present in most of Jock's words which create images that stimulate the five senses . . .These are reflections of life and death, full of dread and awe, beauty and sensuality.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Sometimes the best works of fiction are uncategorizable. There are some readers, for example, who would shelve Niall Williams's As It Is in Heaven squarely in the romance section, while others would just as certainly place this follow-up to Four Letters of Love next to the works of the best magical realists. The proverbial "they" might consider devising a new category for books like this one: Call it Something for Everyone, the shelf that would hold those all-too-rare novels that combine touching romance, spirituality, and magic with good, old-fashioned storytelling.

As It Is in Heaven is the tale of 28-year-old Stephen Griffin, a schoolteacher who lives with his ailing father, Philip, in County Clare, Ireland. Diffident, insecure men whose lives have been hobbled by the early death of Stephen's mother, the two live in a kind of self-protective cocoon and let life pass them by. Then Philip's doctor confirms what he himself has long suspected: He has cancer and will soon die. In the first of a series of magical "deals" with God, Philip buys time so that he can live to see his son happy and cared for.

Meanwhile, Stephen happens upon a visiting orchestra and falls madly, irrationally in love with an Italian violinist named Gabriella Castoldi. Far more sophisticated and worldly than he, Gabriella seems an unlikely participant in the great romance Stephen imagines...and yet spiritual and metaphysical forces conspire to bring the two together. Their ensuing relationship is complicated, tempestuous, and ultimately profound.

It's a romantic, movingstory,but one that might seem rather ordinary were it not for Williams's lilting prose and the kind of deference to magic and coincidence that characterized some of the early works of Alice Hoffman. Take, for instance, the scene in which Stephen walks along the sea and realizes that Gabriella will, in fact, come to him, just as surely as his father will slip away. "Clouds blacked the stars. The sea was in the air and spat saltily at the back of the house, but Stephen did not care and walked down to where the land fell away to the rocks and the waves. His heart was racing. He felt as if, out of the infinite vastness of the unknown, a hand had reached for him, and he had been given new grace." Or this moment of reflection — "It was a micro-season of happiness, a blissed-out moment of abandoned candlelight, and Stephen Griffin could sit at the table in the brief pleasure of knowing: This is joy, this is the richness of things, the brimming sense of the impossible becoming real." The brief chapter in which Stephen flies to Venice in search of the fleeing Gabriella will put a reader in mind of the old Truffaut film "The Story of Adele H." Half mad with desire and obsession, after ten days of searching, of saying "her name at shops and fish stalls...and damp candlelit churches," Stephen almost dies of pain and disappointment.

But there's more going on here than simple romance, thanks in part to the cast of charmingly offbeat characters who inhabit this colorful Irish town. In addition to Philip, who is the kind of father Frank McCourt could only have dreamed about, there is Nelly Grant, the greengrocer, and Moses Mooney, a blind musician, who has sensed that love is coming. The jealous administrator at Stephen's school is the closest this book comes to an "evil" character, although her disapproval of Stephen clearly stems less from meanness than from jealousy that Stephen may in fact get what everyone wants (i.e., a great love). These are simple, down-home characters, but they take on a poetic importance. Add to that Williams's tendency to write homiletic metaphors — Philip, for example, is a tailor, and so Williams sees his life in tailor's terms: "Philip made a few short tugs, as if teasing the cloth for weakness, the way life does a man" — and you begin to get an idea of why this book will have widespread appeal. Of course, there are probably some readers who will find Williams's novel a tad on the hokey side, what with his tendency toward fortuitous coincidence and the fact that people not in physical proximity tend to "speak" to each other, but those readers miss the point: As It Is in Heaven should be read as a parable. Like a great gothic love story, albeit one with more fully drawn characters, it is less about a specific romance than about emotion in general — huge, sweeping emotion in a series of dramatic locations. It may not have the bleakness of vision, the portentousness that characterizes the great Irish writing of this century, but As It Is in Heaven is as much a tale of love and loss as anything James Joyce ever wrote. And one thing's for sure: It's a whole lot more crowd-pleasing.

Sara Nelson

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.
Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Having lost his mother and sister in a car crash at an early age, Stephen Griffith is so deeply reserved that he practically disappears into the woodwork. But then one day he spots violinist Gabriella Castoldi in performance and is transformed by an overwhelming love. Gabriella, who came to Ireland with a boyfriend and promptly fell out of love and refused to leave, isn't quite as bowled over by Stephen but is glad enough to launch a liaison. On this slender strip of a story, Williams constructs a whole, top-heavy novel. After Four Letters of Love (LJ 7/97), Williams's thoughtful and enchanting debut, this second work comes as a shock: it's a sticky, sentimental mess, terrifically overblown and portentously yet conventionally written. Buy only where soppy love stories flourish.
— Barbara Hoffert
Meghan O'Rourke
...[A] book about trying to read the messages we find in the world around us, and about the fractured moments in which lives notably, fatefully, intersect. Williams proposes that it is empathy and the willingness to work at the business of living that redeem us....The novel's less portentous moments demonstrate the author's ear for language and easy, confident gaze.
The New York Times Book Review
Irish America Magazine
For the reader who likes a good, passionate love story, with swirling prose and a scenic Irish backdrop...
Kirkus Reviews
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 musicand 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.

Product Details

Grand Central Publishing
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.37(w) x (h) x 1.12(d)

Read an Excerpt


There are only three great puzzles in the world, the puzzle of love, the puzzle of death, and, between each of these and part of both of them, the puzzle of God.

God is the greatest puzzle of all.

When a car drives off the road and crashes into your life, you feel the puzzle of God. You feel the sharpness of its edges fall on top of you and know the immensity of the puzzle from the force of the life being crushed out of you. You want to lift the pieces and throw them away into the darkness. You feel the chill of loss, the drafty air, as if the walls of your soul have been knocked down in the night and you wake to realize that you are living in a vast exposed emptiness.

When the man driving the car turns out to be a drunken priest who receives only minor injuries, you wonder if God was ever there at all, or if the puzzle itself was your own invention to excuse the existence of the random and the brutal where they crisscrossed our days.

Philip Griffin wondered. He wondered what crime his ten-year-old daughter could have committed, what grievous error she had made that had drawn the priest's car upon her that afternoon. What fault could his wife, Anne, have been guilty of as she drove into Ranelagh to collect rosin for her daughter's half-sized cello? In the weeks and months following the accident Philip Griffin asked the questions and could arrive at only one answer: there was none. The fault was his own, the judgement had fallen not on them but upon him. For it was the survivor who suffered. In the weeks following the funeral of his wife and daughter he had scoured the burnt bottom of his soul for the myriad failings of his love-the days he had said nothing, had returned from work with some bitterness and left the children doing their homework, telling them to leave him alone when they came with copies, raising his newspaper like a drawbridge and retreating inside the loveless world of facts and news, until a knock came on the room door and he walked out to tea; the evenings he did not tell them he loved them but told them only to go to bed and be quiet or he'd be cross. He searched out each of his failings and then concluded that they were so numerous it was perfectly clear why God had smote his life with suffering. Understanding that was the only way he was able to continue living, for in his eyes his living with the hurt was a kind of cleansing. Mary and Anne were in heaven awaiting him, and he would be there to join them one day, when he had done whatever he could for his remaining child, Stephen; when life had at last purged his sins and cancer would arrive.

There was peace in that. The puzzle of God was not so bad after all, and Philip could endure suffering, knowing that at least when it was over it would mean he was forgiven.

In twenty years that day had not come. His son, Stephen, had become a schoolteacher and moved away from Dublin to the west. The fracture that had fallen between them the day of the crash, when they had each retreated into great guilty rooms of silence, had grown steadily wider, and the father had felt each year the weakening of his ability to reach his son. Stephen was a lone figure; he was tall and silent and intense, and had vanished from his father into the world of history books before he had finished his teens. Now he arrived one weekend a month to sit opposite his father in the sitting room and correct copies and read the newspaper while Puccini played on the small stereo and the light died in the street outside.


It was a late-autumn afternoon. The chestnut leaves had fallen in the garden and blackened the grass, which Philip Griffin did not rake. A small man, he sat in the front window with the Venetian blinds open and watched the road for the coming of his son's car. When it entered the driveway, he had looked away and gazed at the air as if watching the music. He heard Stephen turn his key in the door, but he did not get up. He sat with his hands on his knees and waited with the terrible immobility of those who have lost the means of talking to their children.

"Hello," Stephen said again.

The music was playing. His father raised his right hand three inches off his knee as a greeting, but said nothing more. He was listening to the singing like a man looking at a faraway place. There were words in the air, but Philip Griffin did not need to say them, he did not need to say: When your mother was alive, she liked this one," for Stephen already knew it. He knew the terrible sweetness of the melancholy in that music and how it soothed his father to be there within it. He said nothing and sat down.

On the small tape recorder beside his chair Philip Griffin turned up the volume and let the music fill the space between them. They had not seen each other for three weeks, but sat in their armchairs, surrounded by Puccini, as if the spell of the music would bear no interruption and the memory of the slim and tall figure of Anne Griffin was walking in the room. The sorrowfulness of the aria was cool and delicious; it was beyond their capability of telling, and while it played, father and son lingered in its brief and beautiful grief, each thinking of different women.

The heavy golden curtains of the room were tied back from the window; they had not been closed in many years, and their gathered folds held within them the ageing dust of the man who sat there every day. Philip Griffin had his face turned to the open Venetian blind, and bands of orange light fell across it as the streetlights came on. He was sixty-eight years old. He had never been handsome, but had once been lively. Now his hair grew like curling grey wires over his ears and in his ears, while the crown of his head was so bare it looked vulnerable and expectant of blows. As he sat he held his hands in his lap and sometimes looked down at them and turned them over, as if searching for traces of the cancer he imagined must be growing inside him. He was a tired man who had grown to dislike company. The place in his spirit where he was broken had grown so familiar to him, and he had so long ago abandoned the notion of any fingering or magic that could repair it, that his living had assumed a frayed quality, waiting for the last thread to give.

The music played, he held his hands. When three arias had ended, he reached down and clicked off the machine. "Well," he said, and looked through the darkness of the room to see with astonishment the changed face of his son.

(c) 1999 by Niall Williams"

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

As It Is in Heaven 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Don't be put off by the theme of this book. There is so much beauty in everything Niall Williams writes that I look forward to each book knowing that I will experience something that his literary gift helps me to see in a new way. A gifted writer.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Nail Williams has some secret to Love that we all wish we knew. I thought the characters were so opposite and so wonderfully combined. Stephan was hard to read at first, but I fell in love with his child like demeanor. That his whole life was changed by that 'feeling' You know, that feeling you get when God speaks to you. You don't know why you have to do something, but you do it anyway, with an overwhelming sense of need to accomplish the task set before you, just made this wonderful love story so true to life. The adventure portrayed and the unconditional love shown by Stephan is so wonderfully endearing. The ocean setting and the weather that they had to endure plays a great part in telling this story. You'll love it. I can't wait to hear what everyone else has to say about this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel delves inside the souls of the characters and shows us what it means to grieve. I must say the book progressed slowly, but so does the process of grief. Williams has beautiful prose and immaculate descriptions. I look forward to reading more from this gifted writer.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As in his deeply affecting debut novel, Four Letters Of Love, Irish writer Niall Williams again explores the emotional terrain of that ever fascinating emotion - love. Woven of magic and touching reality, As It Is In Heaven once more showcases the author's luminous prose in an enchanting narrative that soars and sings as gloriously as the music of Puccini and Vivaldi he so eloquently describes. Set in mythic villages and along Ireland's craggy, unforgiving coast, As It Is In Heaven traces the evolution of three people who have been broken by loss; it would seem irreparably so. Their days are contoured by foreboding. No longer active participants in life, they are the heartsore, docile legatees of parsimonious Fate. Mourning shrouds the life of Philip Griffin, a retired tailor, who asks God why his wife and 10-year-old daughter were allowed to die in a tragic auto accident some 20 years earlier. When there is no answer from God, Philip believes, 'The fault was his own, the judgment had fallen not on them but upon him. For it was the survivor who suffered.' This suffering is mirrored in his son, Stephen, now 28, and a schoolteacher in western Ireland. The shared question of why they have survived has forged a bond between father and son, 'They did not speak of it but took the puzzle of their days everywhere with them, growing an identical jagged wrinkle across the middle of their foreheads and talking fitfully in the brief periods of their night sleep.' Philip's solace is found in the knowledge that he will be reunited with his wife and daughter after he has done whatever he can for his son. Not daring to imagine that love is real for it would make life too hard, Stephen finds a modicum of peace by accepting his solitude, and turning ever more inward. 'Life had imbued him with a deep humility and then nourished it with a Catholic sense of his own unworthiness.' Nonetheless, love does find an incredulous Stephen. When an Italian String Quartet comes for a performance in County Clare, he sees Gabriella Castoldi, a lovely master violinist, and his days are forever altered. Gifted, enigmatic, and alone, she has never forgotten her father's description of love - it's like a cheap perfume that soon wears off. When Philip, who is ill, learns that Stephen is in love, he fears for his son, believing such passion will be unrequited and only bring further pain. 'Desperate for a stay of death to help his son,' Philip makes a pact with God - 'If you let me live.....I will try and do some act of goodness each day.' To this end he withdraws a major portion of his savings to give away. The naive, introverted Stephen, to his utter surprise, boundless joy, and sometimes dismay, recognizes that he is in love. Forgetting all else, including his teaching position, he begins an ardent pursuit of Gabriella. Puzzlement is her first response, followed by disbelief that a man capable of such selfless devotion could exist. Her reaction is appropriate, as there is common ground between them: 'the expectation of failure and the familiarity of despair.' For Stephen. Gabriella's acquiescence is hard won, and even more difficult to keep. They are together only briefly when Gabriella announces that she is returning to Venice, and even as she speaks 'wondering why she felt the brutal necessity of testing love, of bending its back towards breaking, and trying to bring on before time the grief she imagined was inevitable.' There's mysticism in this story - mysticism in the beliefs of the unforgettably fey Nelly Grant, the greengrocer who nourishes the couple. There is also magic - magic in the pen of Niall Williams who stunningly extrapolates the essence of love. Read As It Is In Heaven and rejoice.
Guest More than 1 year ago
a book about the mystical and transforming powers of love, life, nature, music. exquisite imagery. written with such brilliance and astonishing beauty, it has literally transformed my soul.