First Line: I met you at a dance in Ilford.
Summary: No surprise given the title, this is a love story. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say, it’s a story about love. The book follows the lives of three women, Aoife, Rosaleen, and Kate. Their stories span decades and take us from Ireland to England, back and forth in time and place. We see how their lives are linked and how the choices they make have consequences inherited by the next generation. Pages are devoted to showing the daily, tender scenes of mother-daughter bonds. But we also see how these women make seemingly small decisions to keep the peace with their husbands and lose their daughters as a result, suffering in silence. Or in another case, how women unwittingly lose their daughters, pushed by impossible situations and lacking options. Although it can be a tearful read, there is enough redemption in the final pages that you don’t feel you or the characters suffered in vain.
My thoughts: I’ve read a lot of reviews that describe this book as quiet and tender, which it is. Although a lot happens, it is not dramatic. Freud does such a good job of writing it the way real life feels—how we don’t know we’re making a decision that will change the course of our lives and the lives of the ones we love; we’re just doing what seems best in the moment. I like books that feel true to life such as this one, and I was also attracted to it because of its setting in Ireland. There’s just something about that place. My mother was raised in a large, Irish-Catholic family and experienced something similar to one of the women in this book. It isn’t something we speak about, so it was a way for me to try and understand what led her to make the choices she did and imagine how she felt.
Carnegie’s Maid by Marie Benedict
First line: The gentle melody of a Christmas song lifted into the air of his study from the street below.
Summary: Clara Kelley is a poor Irish girl who has been sent by her family to America to acquire a job so she can send money home to her parents. When she is mistaken for another Irish immigrant, she gains the job of a lifetime. She is hired as the lady’s maid to Mrs. Carnegie, the mother of the rising industrialist, Andrew Carnegie. When she is discovered reading books in the family library by Andrew they strike up a friendship. They discuss poetry, their past lives and business. As their relationship grows, she continues to worry that she will lose her position and no longer be able to help her starving family in Ireland.
Highlights: I loved the lightheartedness of the story. The character of Clara was one I enjoyed following through the story. The time period is one filled with change. Seeing the friendship between Clara and Mr. Ford. They were two outcasts at the time. Each had their own struggles in the time of the Civil War. It was a nice look into the history and cultural outlook of the era. I liked the relationship between Andrew and Clara. The background of Andrew Carnegie was fascinating. It showcases the American dream. He came to America as a poor young man but he took advantage of every opportunity to become one of the richest men in U.S. history. I enjoyed his discussions about his love of reading that slowly evolve into the idea for the Carnegie libraries. Mrs. Carnegie was fascinating. She is a society woman who was not exactly sure how to be a society woman. She was new money and learning as she went. I liked that she deferred to Clara on how things were done. However, she always seemed to be in control.
Lowlights: I wanted more of the friendship between Mr. Ford and Clara. They have such an interesting dynamic. Clara claims that Mr. Ford was her only friend but we see very few interactions between the two. I liked that they found someone who is as much on the outside as the other.
FYI: The story is fiction but it is a nice story of Andrew Carnegie.
The Good People by Hannah Kent
First Line: Nora’s first thought when they brought her the body was that it could not be her husband’s.
Summary: In a small village in Ireland in the early 1800s lived three women. Nora a recent widow, her maid, Mary and the local healer, Nance. When bad luck starts to befall the village, the people look for someone to blame. Is the healer responsible for the cows not giving milk? Did the mysterious child living with the widow cause the death of his grandfather? Or is it the fairies? During a cold winter, suspicion and fear cause the people to turn on these women.
Highlights: Beautifully written! I felt like I was living in the world. I could feel the dirt, hear the screams, and smell the pipe smoke. It is fascinating to read stories based on true events. This one is filled with the folklore of the poor in rural Ireland. The fact that people believed that a child who was sick or disabled was actually a changeling (a fairy) is astounding. This book has to be read considering the context. To modern day standards it seems ridiculous but to the people of the time it made complete sense. Science was not as far advanced. People were not taught to read. Many never left their villages. The whole time I was hoping for a happy ending even though knowing it will never happen.
Lowlights: The story started out slow as it was building to the main theme. I kept wondering when the plot described in the summary was going to begin but when it did, I was pulled into this world. I was very sad about the ending but also pleased with the outcome.
FYI: Read with an idea that these were not modern times. This is a great lesson in how not that long ago we were burning witches and believing in fairies rather than science and facts.