Recommended to me by a dear friend, this time-slip novel about a young, grieving American woman, who journey’s to Ireland with her grandfather’s ashes only to find herself transported back into his history, is hauntingly lovely.
The book starts in 2001, when Anne Gallagher, despondent and lost over the death of her beloved grandfather, Eoin, fulfils his final wishes by taking his ashes back to his home country to spread them over the lake he loved.
Heart-sore, lonely, yet enchanted by this country she’d only ever known and loved through her grandfather’s stories, Anne is both mesmerised and lost. Knowing she is named after and resembles her grandfather’s mother strongly, she seeks solace in the few mementoes she has of her grandfather’s life, including a detailed journal written by the man who was like a father to her own grandfather, a doctor named Thomas Smith. Fittingly, while absorbed in the past and drifting through the present, Anne is wrenched back in time to 1921 and the height of the troubles in Ireland, when Michael Collins and those who believed in the future he saw are fighting for Irish independence – including Eoin’s father figure, Dr Thomas Smith.
These are dangerous times and moreso because there are those who would see Anne Gallagher – the past one and the modern one – dead. Over the next few months, as tensions increase and Ireland draws closer to war – civil and with Britain, Anne finds comfort in the new life and loves she is forging, a healing and simultaneous remembering and forgetting that is both painful and joyous. But Anne knows she is living on borrowed time. As a child of the future, does she have a right to this past or is it one she’s lived before? Or will any chance of learning the truth be taken from her?
This is an exquisite story that is so easy to lose yourself in, even at its bleakest moments. Like so much good historical fiction, you also learn while reading it. Having an Irish grandfather who fled Ireland at this time (while being fired upon) it was easy to have sympathy with the causes being espoused. The conflict was bitter, confusing and caused so much heartache and bloodshed. All of this, and the inner turmoil it created, the families and friendships it tore apart, is beautifully explored. The reader sees the “troubles” through Anne’s eyes, someone familiar with the written history but swiftly learning that living it, with all its inherent danger, immediacy and pain, is altogether very different.
The love-story woven through it – or rather, love stories – there are a few and all with Anne at the centre – are really moving and relatable. So are the countryside and its warm, stoic and superstitious people.
A fabulous read that kept me awake until the wee hours so I could finish it and then beyond that while I wept a storm. A good one.