ANCESTRAL VOICES by Hugh FitzGerald Ryan


Email this review


 Ghostly tethers bind a contemporary Irishman to the revolutionary violence of his country's past in this slim but solid novel from the author of On Borrowed Ground (not reviewed). Set largely in Ireland's Wexford County, an actual place that has some of the stark atmosphere of Thomas Hardy's fictional Wessex, the story follows former boxer Jack Dempsey (no literal relation to the famous heavyweight champ), now employed as a Dublin antiques dealer, from his marriage to a Wexford farm girl through his unrelenting interest in a bloody 1798 peasant uprising to the near-collapse of his spirit. Determined to write an account of the Wexford Rising that will both explain the significance of the event and give him some understanding of his role in the world, Jack quits his job and moves his family to a seacoast cottage in Wexford, where he proceeds to drift lethargically toward writer's block halfway through his manuscript. Added to this malaise are dwindling financial reserves, the inexplicable mingling of uprising lore he has gathered with his own personal memories (which come to include such horrors as hanged rebels, a chapel full of Quakers burned alive, and 77 prisoners tossed from a cliff), and the abrupt death of his new son. Jack embarks on a modern version of the traditional hero's retreat to his tent: He will abandon history to lick his wounds until he can return to finish his book. Over the course of his quest, Jack encounters a steady stream of Irish regional wisdom from local characters, who offer him a road map for the pilgrimage he must undertake to arrive at his quietly religious recovery. At times beautifully written, dense with striations of setting, time, and meaning, this thickly layered tale of one man's struggle with his heritage reads like Ian McEwan crossed with W. B. Yeats. Difficult, but remarkable in the breadth of its ambition. (Map)

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-918339-32-4
Page count: 208pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1994