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An ornate and moving debut about a young Irish woman’s return to her ancestral home, where she attempts to make peace with her family’s troubled history.

To paraphrase Frank McCourt, there’s no bad marriage like a bad Irish marriage—as Noreen Moriarity learned to her chagrin. A fisherman’s daughter from the tiny village of Scarna, Noreen was a shy and awkward girl who married the taciturn farmer Joseph Moriarity mainly because his farm overlooked the sea. Joseph turned out to be a bitter, vindictive lout who never touched his wife unless he was dead drunk and rarely spoke a sober word to her that wasn’t a command. Their only child, Carmel, was even more withdrawn than Noreen—so much so that she acquired a reputation in the village for being “slow.” Eventually she was taken advantage of by one of the local boys, became pregnant in due course, and fled to London to have the baby. There, after a miscarriage, Carmel worked several years as a housemaid for a society prostitute before joining the profession herself. A second pregnancy resulted in the birth of daughter Sive, who was largely brought up by Myrna, an elderly prostitute who looked after the girl while Carmel worked. Some light entered Carmel’s life by the arrival of Noreen, who came to London to look after her daughter and granddaughter after Joseph finally died. But when Noreen died a few years later, Carmel found herself at loose ends. Sive, by now a young woman, decides that best would be to move back to her mother’s old home in Scarna, so she, Carmel, and Myrna all move to Ireland together. There, in the house that held such misery for Carmel and her mother before her, the three try to find a way of putting the past behind them.

A bit heavy-handed at times but affecting even so.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-312-31383-7
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2003