Ireland's 'troubles' serve as the backdrop in this romantic drama
"The Yellow House," Patricia Falvey, Center Street, 352 pages. Patricia Falvey, who was born in Northern Ireland and now splits her time between there and Dallas, makes a strong fiction debut with "The Yellow House," a stirring romantic drama set...
"The Yellow House," Patricia Falvey, Center Street, 352 pages.
Patricia Falvey, who was born in Northern Ireland and now splits her time between there and Dallas, makes a strong fiction debut with "The Yellow House," a stirring romantic drama set during the nascent period of "the troubles" that tore Ireland apart throughout the 20th century.
The book tells the first-person story of Eileen O'Neill, whom we first meet as a child in Ulster, the epicenter of the conflict between the British-rule supporting Protestants and the Home Rule-supporting Catholics.
Eileen's idyllic childhood, set in the bright house of the book's title, comes apart when she loses, in quick succession, both parents (one to desertion and madness, one to death) and two of her siblings.
Left with just her younger brother to care for, she goes to work in a linen factory, attracting the attention of the owner's son, Owen Sheridan, a gentle Quaker who gets drawn into the political upheaval when he becomes a British military officer.
Eileen also finds herself attracted to James Conlan, a rough man on the other side of the battle, whose fighting spirit appeals to her own warrior nature.
As the animosities between the Protestants and the now fully formed Irish Republican Army grow ever bloodier, Eileen feels herself continually split, with conflicts of love, lust, compassion and loyalty.
The early scenes of Eileen's and James' lawless exploits for the Catholic resistance make for thrilling reading, and her gradual realization that lust doesn't necessarily lead to long-lasting contentment is both realistic and piercingly sad.
Falvey declines to make easy division between the good guys and bad guys, instead trusting the reader to appreciate the complexities born of neighbor turned against neighbor and brother against sister.
Reading "The Yellow House," I was struck anew with how much revolutionary Ireland resembled Civil War-era America, at least psychologically. The book serves as a provocative reminder of the tangled strings of family, war and familial war, and also (although it's being marketed as literary fiction) as a splendid example of old-fashioned, minimal-bodice-ripping romance.