Book Review for Ireland:A Novel
I have just finished one of the most amazing books. Ireland: A Novel by Frank Delaney intricately weaves together several tales with Ireland itself fulfilling the role of setting and supporting character. I thoroughly enjoyed not only the plot and originality of the story, but the writing was spectacular in its lush descriptions of ancient and modern day Ireland, as well as the very soil and green (as you've never seen before) grass of the island.
The story begins one evening with the visit of an Irish storyteller to the O'Mara household. Ronan, the only child of the house, becomes immediately enthralled with the old man whose station in life is to travel the country telling and retelling the rich history of Ireland. On this first night where we meet the Storyteller we hear the tale of an ancient and awe-inspiring burial site at Newgrange. Ronan hangs on the Storyteller's every word and puts every image and syllable to memory. But Ronan is not the only one who is listening, several townspeople have filled the O'Mara's sitting room to hear the magical tales and so it goes for three evenings.
The morning following the Storyteller's tale about St. Patrick, Ronan's mother has a falling out with the visitor over accused blasphemy. She asks him to leave her household at once - without saying goodbye to Ronan. His departure sets into motion a journey by the then 9-year-old boy that lasts well into his adulthood. Ronan's journey brings him to many corners of the Emerald Isle during his life, coast to coast, in search of the Storyteller. Along the way he learns the history of his beloved country, even more about the love the Irish people have for a good tale and the people who tell them and most of all, Ronan learns about his own family heritage and where he comes from.
While the story of Ronan's journey drives the story forward, the tales that we hear told by the Storyteller and his friends are like a separate storyline altogether. We learn of kings and queens, Viking battles, English occupation, the Great Hunger that drove so many millions to emigrate and several more millions to the grave, and of course, the Easter Uprising of 1916 that led to England retreating from Dublin and giving up all but the very Northern most part of the island. The history is rich, the language like music and I can still hear the voice of the Storyteller echoing in my head as he told of the bullets breaking windows and the images of death permanently burned into his eyes on that bloody, Easter holiday weekend.
I have completely fallen in love with this book. Not only is the story compelling, but the way in which Delaney connects each character with history and illustrates how each person is somehow connected to his neighbor is amazing. But most amazing of all is that by the time you get to the end of the book (and it is a lengthy one) the resolution leads you to recall all that you have read from page one. Each event depends upon all of the events that precede it, both in history and in the novel, and Delaney seamlessly constructs this intricate web without one misstep.
Delaney writes not only a wonderful "oral" history of his land, but provides the reader with one of the most human stories I've read in quite some time. Ireland: A Novel has been added, with great pleasure, to my personal Top Five Best Novels list and I believe, if you give it the time it deserves, you will be greatly impressed as well.