FOOL'S SANCTUARY by Jennifer Johnston


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An unpretentious and captivating short novel--again about revolutionary Ireland in the 1920's--from the author of The Old Jest (1979), The Christmas Tree (1982), and The Railway Station Man (1985). As an old woman on her deathbed, Miranda Martin looks back over her life, revisiting especially the long-ago moment, when she was 18, that changed everything for her, causing her not only never to marry, but to ""have known the embraces of no man."" As a carefree young girl of 18, Miranda lived near the sea's edge in Cork, surrounded by nannies and servants (though her mother was dead), in the faded, half-ghostly, and generations-old rural family estate called Termon--far from the turmoil of revolutionary affairs. Her brother Andrew, however, is an officer in the British army, and when he returns home one autumn weekend for a visit, accompanied by a fellow officer and friend, catastrophe occurs. The underground revolutionary army has identified Andrew and his companion as spies, and, in the early hours of the morning, after a night of lightning and rain, three of its representatives arrive at Termon for the purpose of killing the two in their beds. What they find, however, is that the British officers have fled, having been warned by young Cathal Dillon, himself a rebel, but also the childhood (though working-class) friend of Andrew and--quite sweetly and tentatively--the young lover of Miranda. Cathal is taken away and executed; Miranda grieves helplessly; and what might have been only another historically-set melodrama lingers poignantly in the reader's mind with moment after moment of precisely realized character, setting, and mood--from Miranda herself to her eccentrically idealistic and unpolitical father, to the personal bitterness of Andrew and his archly cruel impatience with what he sees as Irish backwardness, to the appealing tenderness and prepossessing seriousness of the doomed Cathal. UnclichÉd, wondrously (and deftly) evocative of time and place, and remarkably moving.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Viking