PROLOGUE Christmas Eve
She pulls her shabby black woollen coat tighter around her and wraps her scarf snugly against her cheeks. It is bitterly cold, her breath forming an opaque mist in the frosty moonlight. The stony path that leads from her grandmother’s cottage down to the farmhouse is slippery with ice, and she skitters and slides, grabbing a furze bush with her woollen-mitted hands to save herself from a fall. She pauses to catch her breath.
Venus, a radiant golden jewel, shines as brightly as the yellow slice of new moon against a black velvet sky speckled with glittering stars. Candlelit windows down in the valley and on the hillsides spill pools of light in the darkness. She’d lit the fat, red candle in her grandmother’s parlour window before she left, for the traditional welcome to the Christ child on Christmas Eve.
Normally she would feel delight and anticipation on this blessed night, though she is no longer a child and doesn’t believe in Father Christmas, unlike her two excited youngest siblings at home, who have already hung their stockings at the end of their beds.
Tonight she is bereft, her heart shattered into a thousand sharp-edged pieces. She looks down to her left beyond the stony fields that quilt the mountain, where weather-bowed, bare-branched trees and hedgerows define the boundaries to the Larkins’ farmland. Her heart feels as though a knife has stabbed and twisted it when she thinks of black-haired, brown-eyed Johnny Larkin, who had told her that he loved her more than he’d ever loved anyone. Who had pressed her up against the cold, hard wall of his father’s barn and kissed and caressed her in her most private places and done things to her that, even though she’d demurred and then protested, had shocked her, yet given her a fierce delight that Johnny loved and wanted her and not that skinny little rake, Peggy Fitzgerald, whose father owned the big farm next to the Larkins’.
Two days after Johnny told her he loved her, his engagement to Peggy had been announced. Tomorrow at Christmas Mass, Peggy will simper and giggle on Johnny’s arm, flashing the diamond ring Pa Larkin has lent his son the money to buy.
She can’t bear it. An anguished sob breaks the deep silence of the night. Her sorrow overwhelms her. A sudden, unexpected pain in her belly doubles her up, causing her to groan in agony. She feels dampness on her thighs, and pulling up her clothes sees the trickle of blood down her legs. Another spasm convulses her and, frightened, she takes deep breaths until it eases.
In the distance, she hears the sound of the carol singers who go from house to house, singing the glorious story of the birth of a child who would bring peace to all mankind.
As she loses her own child, in the shelter of the prickly furze bush, she hears the singing of “O Holy Night” floating across the fields from her parents’ house.
ABOUT THIS BOOK: Marie-Claire has just made the shocking discovery that her boyfriend (and business partner) is cheating on her. Reeling, she leaves her apartment in Toronto to travel home to Ireland, hoping the comfort of her family and a few familiar faces will ground her. She arrives just in time to celebrate her beloved great-aunt Reverend Mother Brigid’s retirement and eightieth birthday. It will be a long-awaited and touching reunion for three generations of her family, bringing her mother Keelin and grandmother Imelda—who have never quite gotten along—together as well.
But then all hell breaks loose.
Bitter, jealous Imelda makes a startling revelation at the party that forces them all to confront their pasts and face the truths that have shaped their lives. With four fierce, opinionated women in one family, will they ever be able to find common ground and move forward?
MY THOUGHTS: Families: you can’t live with them; you can’t live without them.
The Liberation of Brigid Dunne by Patricia Scanlan is a little like an onion. It is multi-layered and probably going to make you cry.
It is a novel of family relationships, of how easy it is to tear a family apart and how hard it is to put it back together. It is a novel of secrets and jealousies, of heartbreak and hope, of forgiveness and redemption set over a wide time span and against the changing background of the Catholic Church. It tells of the struggle for women’s rights in Catholic Ireland, the fight for safe methods of birth control.
There is a strong background of Irish politics and Catholicism to this novel, but the primary focus is on the relationships between the four women of the family: sisters Brigid and Imelda, Imelda’s daughter Keelin, and her daughter Marie-Claire.
The characters are well portrayed and very realistic. We probably all have an Imelda, or some version of her, in our families. This is more a character driven than plot driven novel.
It is a novel of dreams and ambitions, both thwarted and achieved. It is a reminder of how easy it is to blame others for our own shortcomings, our failures, rather than taking ownership of our own decisions; of how much love and support we deflect by hanging on to petty resentments and jealousies. It is also a reminder that what we see and the reality of the situation are often poles apart.
If you are worried that this might be a moralistic or ‘preachy’ read, don’t be, because it’s not. It’s not soppy, or sloppy. It’s a well constructed story of four women in one family, each of them strong in their own way, but also struggling with life, and their relationships with one another.
I enjoyed The Liberation of Brigid Dunne, but I didn’t love it. A good solid read deserving of 😊😊😊.5 stars
‘A workaholic (is) a flower with only one petal unfurled.’
THE AUTHOR: Patricia Scanlan was born in Dublin, where she still lives. Her #1 bestsellers include Apartment 3B; Finishing Touches; Foreign Affairs; Promises, Promises; Mirror, Mirror; City Girl; City Woman; City Lives; and Francesca’s Party. She has sold millions of books worldwide and is translated into many languages. Patricia is the series editor and a contributing author to the award winning Open Door literacy series, which she developed for adult literacy
DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Atria Books via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The Liberation of Brigid Dunne by Patricia Scanlan for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.
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