Monday, April 5, 2010

Book Review - "The Yellow House" by Patricia Falvey


The Yellow House is Patricia Falvey's first novel, and it's a keeper. It relates a period of time that may not be familiar to American audiences, but the events from that time still have repercussions today. The Yellow House is a love story, but it goes much deeper than a romance novel. Besides passionate love, Falvey also writes of patriotic love and familial love.

Eileen O'Neill is headstrong and independent. She grows up in the early decades of the twentieth century when Ireland is struggling for independence from England, and she is living in the worst of it, in the province of Ulster, which is soon to become Northern Ireland. She is Catholic in an area dominated by Protestants, and she experiences the discrimination against her religion by those in the majority. Horrific events cause her to lose a good part of her family as well as her beloved Yellow House, and she vows to one day return and live in her childhood home with her family restored to her. Anger and rage fuel her actions and keep her dream alive, even when it seems like she should give up that fantasy.

Eileen falls in love with two men: James, who becomes a freedom fighter, blinded to everything except an independent Ireland; and Owen, a Quaker whose family owns the mill where Eileen works. She marries one and has a child by both, but only one of those men really and truly understands her better than she understands herself. She joins the struggle for Home Rule out of revenge, but she eventually learns that that way may not lead to personal healing.

The historical events are not just the backdrop against which the story is set. They are the story. There is a note at the back of the book, which perhaps you should turn to first if you're not familiar with Irish history. There may be some minor spoilers, however. It's not necessary to have the background information, as Falvey does a good job of interweaving those details of real life with her characters' lives. I admit I had a hard time keeping the sides straight at first, but I decided not to worry about it. Soon enough the story hold and I was able to remember who was on which side. I did wish that she had provided a map. Even though I knew a bit about Ireland and that Ulster is in the north, I still would have liked to know where cities and towns are in relation to each other.

If you're interested in the Easter Uprising and the War of Independence, here are a few other books you might enjoy:

1916 and 1921 by Morgan Llywelyn
A Long, Long Way by Sebastian Barry
A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle
Trinity by Leon Uris

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