In this chatty and original debut, a young Irish woman’s life is turned upside down when she publishes the cryptic messages left behind by an ancestor.
Kate McDaid, 26, is comfortable in her ad-agency job in Dublin, but her life takes a dramatic turn when she receives a letter from a lawyer inviting her to the reading of a will. Though neither Kate nor her parents had heard of the mysterious ancestor who shared her name, the mid-1800s Kate McDaid knew all about her future descendant and charged her with finishing what she could not. Known by villagers as “The Red Hag,” the elder McDaid was a woman gifted with “second sight” who’d written a series of prophetic poems called “The Seven Steps,” said to have been dictated to her by the faeries. If young Kate agrees to publish one poem each week for seven weeks, she’ll be awarded the estate. As the poems catch global attention, Kate is thrust into the spotlight as news agencies declare her a 21st-century prophet. The pages breeze by due to O’Neill’s accessible style, but the book falters in several crucial places. “The Seven Steps” are the backbone of the story, yet the poems are cringingly unconvincing: They display no consideration of meter, rhyme or other known staples of 19th-century Irish poetry. Then there’s the sinister cult O’Neill has constructed that frustratingly deflates at what should be the climax, as Kate is captured and realizes, “I could out-run these old people. In fact, I could out-walk them.” And she does just that. Readers may also be fed up by the time Kate realizes rocker Jim is only using her for the publicity, a co-worker has been pulling the wool over her eyes, and creepy journalist Maura Ni Ghaora is not to be trusted. The true appeal of the novel is in the author’s sure-handed depiction of Ireland’s landscape, people and lore.
A whimsical but flawed novel.