A River In The Trees by Jacqueline O’Mahony
Two women. Two stories. One hundred years of secrets.
A sweeping novel of love, loss, family and history for readers who love Maggie O’Farrell, John Boyne and Donal Ryan
Hannah is nineteen years old and living on her family’s farm in West Cork. Her peaceful world is shattered forever by the eruption of the War of Independence, Ireland’s bid for freedom from Britain. Hannah’s family hide rebel soldiers in their attic, putting them in great danger from the Black and Tans who roam the countryside. An immediate connection between Hannah and O’Riada, the leader of this band of rebels, will change her life and that of her family forever.
Ellen is at a crossroads in her life: her marriage is in trouble, her career is over and she’s grieving the loss of a baby. After years in London, she decides to come home to Ireland to face the past she has always tried to escape. Her journey centres on an old house in the countryside, a house that used to belong to her family. Reaching into the past, she feels a connection to her aunt, the mysterious Hannah O’Donovan. But why won’t anyone in her family talk about Hannah? And how can this journey help Ellen put her life back together?
Hardback published 10th January 2019 by Riverrun
Available to buy here and at all local bookshops.
This book was definitely addictive and I stayed up very late to finish the final third. The opening prologue is one of the best ones I have read, it leads you right in and in a few paragraphs you immediately get the scene set on the house, the characters and their circumstances, and desperately want to read more.
My knowledge of Irish history is depressingly dismal. I have tried over the years to educate myself on important elements but this remains something that I, and I suspect the English education system, should focus more on. The brutal struggles and impossible hardships of a divided community are depicted in this stunning narrative.
Hannah and Ellen at first seem very different characters, from different eras, different families, albeit they are related. Hannah’s sense of duty and fierce love for her family and their bravery in following their beliefs was a compelling and dramatic read. To witness such strong spirits being crushed, and the passion, betrayal and devastating outcome of the array of characters was profound.
I personally preferred the historical side to the book, Hannah’s story, but I think that is kind of the point. Ellen is deliberately set out to be a mess; she makes choices that make you visibly wince, she’s a mess, indifferent and deeply troubled all at once, and this makes her reality ugly but so real. Ellen is struggling to find herself under the tremendous burden of grief and suffering that has broken her. She is lonely, and with all of her frustrating mistakes and flaws you see her spirit trying to endure; her self worth pushing back against all of the blows from her family, her husband and her own body. Her journey back to Ireland, her ancestor’s farm, follows echoes of tragedy, secrets and misfortune that trickles down the bloodline from past to present. Ellen’s own journey is equally the finale, in many ways, to Hannah’s, and the chance to lay old ghosts to rest.
Thank you to Ana at Riverrun for inviting me on this blog tour and for sending me this book to review.