The story of a bleak, isolated Irish island where everyone believes in, and justifiably fears, fairies.
St. Brigid, a saint often conflated with a druid goddess of the same name, chose the remote (and fictitious) isle that bears her name as a haven for her order of nuns. In 1960, a prologue reveals, St. Brigid’s, which lacks electricity, telephone, or any other modern convenience, is about to be evacuated, its inhabitants—women, children, and one elderly man—resettled in council housing on the mainland. The main plot begins a year earlier, when a “Yank” named Brigid arrives to claim her late uncle’s cottage and land. Brigid plans to stay despite the fact that the islanders still live as their ancestors have for centuries: fishing, farming, heating and cooking with peat fires. The first to welcome Brigid are Emer and her young son, Niall. Emer, who, as a child, tried to consort with fairies and lost an eye as a result, needs a friend: her pervasive aura of gloom has alienated all but her closest kin. Brigid inherited her gift of healing hands from her mother, who was, like Emer, reputed to be “touched” by fairies. Back stories swirl, heightening the stakes: Brigid, who has been an orphan, a midwife, and a child bride, is now nearly 40, infertile, and desperate to be a mother. She hopes to locate the spring of St. Brigid, which is said to work miracles—but the islanders keep the location of these waters a secret. Emer’s sister Rose married Austin, the man Emer loved, and has a large brood, while Emer had to settle for Austin’s brother Patch, a loutish drunk. Her biggest fear is that the fairies covet Niall and, as is their wont with certain children, plan to steal him when he turns 7 and leave a changeling in his place. Vividly and soulfully described, love and curses, roiling in a supernatural stew, bring about the large and small calamities that will render St. Brigid’s uninhabitable.
Magical realism of the best kind, utterly devoid of whimsy.