Impressionistic account of an orphan who marries a mysterious architect and comes of age in early 20th-century Ireland.
From the Brontës to Barbara Cartland, the poor orphan who marries a dark and brooding gentleman has been a romantic staple. McBride (The Land of Women, 2003, etc.) weaves a Celtic thread into the pattern, setting her tale in Dublin and the west of Ireland during the years just before WWI. Our heroine is young Dierdre, who grows up on the forlorn Great Blasket Island but comes to live at the Enfant de Marie Convent on the mainland after losing both her parents. There, she’s given a good education by the sisters, and in due course she asks to enter the convent as a nun herself. One of her fellow novices is Bairbre O’Breen, the daughter of a wealthy widow whose benefactions have supported the convent for years. Bairbre’s brother Manus, a young architecture student, often comes to visit and quickly falls in love with Dierdre—who wastes no time in forsaking the religious life to accept his proposal of marriage. Soon the young couple settle in Dublin, where Manus begins his career as assistant to a prominent architect. Although a baby son dies in infancy, Dierdre has two daughters who grow up into bright, happy girls. But the O’Breens are a family of secrets, and Dierdre soon finds that her mother-in-law is intent on having a grandson who will become a priest (even though both Manus and Dierdre have lost their Catholic faith) on account of a murky scandal far back in the O’Breen genealogy. Dierdre, for her part, has a mystery connected with the death of her parents that she’s loath to tell Manus. Who said the Irish can’t keep a secret? If this family were any less communicative they’d be mute.
Nicely atmospheric but unsatisfying. Weak on plot, and the revelations (when they come) are pretty disappointing.