When shamrock green meets black and tan, things sometimes go mauve.
Irish expat novelist Delaney (Ireland, 2005) likes his history with a leavening of fiction, or perhaps his fiction with a leavening of history. In previous work, this history has been sometimes incidental, but here, in a tale of Ireland in a time of dispossession and civil war in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Delaney brings real events to the fore. The story-within-a-story concerns a manuscript that recounts the love between an Irish amateur historian and the young daughter of a landed Anglo-Irish family. Charles O’Brien, the historian, “lived in a culture of narrative,” writes our descendant narrator; April Burke, on the other hand, kept her counsel and lived a life that “brought danger and actual harm to those who loved her,” which makes for a very promising tale indeed. Charles’s long pursuit is fraught, but it affords the narrator—read Delaney—the opportunity to reflect at many points on the twists and turns of the Irish past, which has always been more complex than it appears. (“If you’re not confused,” says one adage on the matter, “then you don’t understand the situation.”) Delaney acknowledges, wisely, that Irish history has always been written with loving ornamentation and staggering heaps of blarney, as well as no end of romanticism; for him to have put a historical tale into the terms of a real romance is a nice twist. The prose sometimes turns purplish and didactic (“Nineteenth-century men had many curbs on the ways in which they could express themselves. Despite some unexpectedly swift mail services, communication was generally limited, so a romance had few escape valves.”), but for the most part Delaney writes with no undue sentimentality, and the narrative moves swiftly and surely.
A sort of Irish Gone With the Wind, marked by sly humor, historical awareness and plenty of staying power.