A River in the Trees by Jacqueline O’Mahony
A century earlier, in 1919, the house is home to nineteen-year-old Hannah, her parents, her three younger brothers and a sister. It’s also, one particular night, a refuge for a band of Irish freedom fighters on the run from the British. When soldiers raid the house the following morning, Hannah is doubly anxious. If they discover the men hiding in the attic they’ll show the family no mercy. But that’s not all: strongly attracted to the rebel leader, Hannah would hate to see him come to harm.
The two strands interact as Ellen visits the house and speaks to locals, learning more about her family’s secrets. But even without that connection, these would be entertaining stories. The prose is lovely, elegant and yet seemingly effortless, and the two main characters, with their contrasting personalities, appealing on the page. Although her life has been restricted, Hannah is brave and determined; Ellen, with more apparent opportunity, is caught in a self-destructive spiral. Who wouldn’t be curious to discover what becomes of them?
Although reading this less for plot than for character, the writing and the situation, a pleasing – subtle and satisfying – twist to the ending convinced me to award this book my second five-star rating of the year. Thanks to Ana McLaughlin of Riverrun for my review copy.
When All Is Said by Anne Griffin
Although life has treated him well and, despite his reading difficulties, his business decisions have brought material riches. But he’s never properly recovered from his childhood poverty and resentment of the Dollard family who lived in the manor house and whose lands adjoined his father’s. Not even seeing their fortunes fade as his rose – the house now a hotel and most of the fields bought up by Maurice – enables him to forgive how they bullied their staff, including his mother and Maurice himself. Will discovering their secret tragedy diminish his grudge?
When All Is Said is one of those novels that, by name-checking “issues” (as well as dyslexia, learning disability, social justice, bereavement, buttoned-up masculinity, there’s a nod to LGBT rights), implies a certain depth but stays in the shallow end where the water comes only as far as your knees. Which is exactly what gets readers parting with their cash – witness the popularity of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that the press release – thank you Sceptre – refers to a four-way UK publisher auction and a six-figure sum in the US. An inoffensive and undemanding read, I liked it, but not one that merits the hype.
In the orchard, I kissed him. Between the colonnades of conference, comice and Cox’s Orange Pippin, tasted nectar on his tongue. Amid the scent of ripened fruit, I smelled the sweat of weeks on the run. We made a bed of fallen leaves, the drone of drunken wasps mingled with our moans.
I knew I had no future with a freedom fighter. Right then, I didn’t care. But when the soldiers stood in line and raised their rifles, the shot sent swallows screaming from their roosts. They left me his bloodied body, and his child blossoming in my womb.