THE KILLEEN by Mary Leland


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A first novel of intertwined lives in the revolutionary Ireland of the 1930's that veers between the highly serious and the limply melodramatic. After her father's death, innocent and intelligent farm-girl Margaret Coakley, at 16, goes to Cork to do menial work in a convent: there, she is seduced by a loving but fiery young republican named Earnán, who (he is a wanted man) by necessity flees. Margaret is taken into the house of one Julia Mulcahy, a highly educated and once-idealistic young woman who helps Margaret through her confinement, then keeps her on as a domestic and arranges for the care of her illegitimate son in a church home. Julia Mulcahy, too, as it turns out, has been touched by the revolutionary movement and, literally, widowed by it; emulating Earnán's radical activities, Julia's husband was arrested and then died in prison after a prolonged hunger strike, leaving Julia with her own young son. At end, all flee in one way or another, Julia to Europe, Margaret (married to an honest workingman) to England. Before her own exile, though, Margaret sends her out-of-wedlock son back home to the family farm with her brother Michael; secretly tortured there by his dementedly vicious (and properly religious) grandmother, the child sickens and dies; the angry and grieving Michael buries him in the ground set aside for unbaptized children (the ""killeen""), then himself chooses exile in America. The theme of Ireland's destruction of her children reaches momentary heights here, as does the poetically attentive writing, but both decline midway into a less disciplined and less fully realized welter of the standardized romantic (""She opened to him like a sack and his seed thundered in""; ""Who can interfere with a man's right to fight for his country?""). Ambitious work but deeply conventionalized in the home-stretch, from an author with literary strengths waiting to be more freshly used.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1986
Publisher: Atheneum