Set during the horrific years of the Irish Potato Famine in the late 1840s, the novel depicted in excruciating prose the dire circumstances of the Irish with what is (to us who take civil liberty and plenty to eat for granted) unimaginable deprivation and hardship. During the Great Famine over one million Irish people died and over a million more emigrated.
The novel centers around Gracelin O’Malley, the daughter of a poor Irish tenant farmer. Motherless at the tender age of six years, Gracelin lives in an impoverished though loving home with her father, brothers and grandmother. At the age of fifteen, when desperate times befall the family she is married off to their English landlord, Bram Donnelly. Years of great unhappiness follow and Gracelin faces abuse and hardship with stoicism. It is only when the lives of her children are endangered that she dares defy her husband. Meanwhile, Morgan McDonagh, the love of her short life, has banded together with other of like minds with talk of sedition and insurgency. With historical accuracy, Ann Moore weaves a fictional account of the nationalist movement called “The Young Irelanders“.
The secondary characters of the novel are well rendered and for the most part sympathetic. We learn to love her brilliant though physically crippled brother, Sean. Her long-suffering father Patrick and her beloved Granna.
The tenacity and hope of the Irish farmers is aptly portrayed. By turns heart-wrenching and inspirational, the story is not an up-lifting one. The plight of the 19th century woman was hard to identify with in this modern day and age.
“Gracelin O’Malley” is a well written novel that is bound to appeal to anyone interested in Irish history. I must warn you though that the story of Gracelin O’Malley does not end on the last page. It is the first in a trilogy of novels, the second of which is “Leaving Ireland” and the third ” ‘Til Morning Light“.
I recommend this novel highly. My only reservation is that Gracelin was portrayed as almost too good to be true, a paragon of selflessness and fortitude. However, that being said, she was a memorable character and one which I will long remember.
Thanks once again to NetGalley for providing me with an ebook edition of this novel in exchange for an honest review.