My mother would have loved this book. It’s a thought I came back to time and again while reading Orna Ross’s work. And we didn’t share the same reading tastes, my mother and me, but I kind of felt that in this novel we might have come across some common ground. Perhaps bridged a gap and known each other better as a result. I began to understand what it might be she liked in this kind of intelligent women’s fiction, also described as ‘family saga.’ It’s a personal point I feel worth making because thematically the novel deals with relationships between mothers and daughters over generations. It also, from the very start, gets one questioning and reflecting upon the impact that death and the dead have on the living.
Jo Devereux, the novel’s protagonist in the present, goes back to small Wexford town Mucknamore where she grew up, for her mother’s funeral. But she is drawn even further back when she is given the task of archiving her grandmother’s journals. As she delves into the youth of the woman known to her as ‘Granny Peg’, she and the reader are drawn into a deeper story. Irish history after the 1916 Easter Rising is something that I’m sure I’m not alone in admitting little knowledge of, and through the journals Peg Parle brings the times to life while teasing out the question of why the family feud between the O’Donovan’s and the Devereux’s (and Parle’s) happened – the actions and the consequences. Because the O’Donovan men have had an important impact on more than one generation – Rory O’Donovan was Jo’s first love and Dan O’Donovan the main reason why this love could never ‘work.’
It’s the sort of story you can curl up with on a lazy afternoon – my mum would have sat reading it for a couple of hours a day until finished, forgetting the ironing, the cooking and the various travails of life, engrossed in these other lives – and it does wrap itself around you, drawing you into the texture of these other lives. As an ebook read I found myself sometimes getting confused between which time period we were in – but I may just have been reading it faster than is recommended – and I didn’t notice much comment on the ‘Troubles’ of the 1970’s which I assumed was happening as Jo left home to go to University. I’d have found it easier if the various timeframes had been separated by clear dates with chapter headings. But this isn’t a criticism of the novel, more a reflection of the fact that an outsiders view of Irish History offers a perspective that is alien (and inferior) to this sense that you are ‘in’ the story which this novel offers. And that the whole Irish history ‘thing’ is still very complex to those of us who haven’t lived it. But the way After the Rising deals with history, integrating it into the domestic lives of the characters is both well constructed and informative.
One thing I want to make very clear in this review is – After the Rising is only half the story. That’s not a criticism. It’s just a warning that if you find, a couple of chapters in, that you are enjoying it, you might as well download Before the Fall long before you reach the final chapter of After the Rising. Because you’ll need to read the second part to get the whole story. And I suggest that the epic way the writing draws you in, mingling love story with history across the generations, you’ll want to do exactly that.
After the Rising is available in Kindle format