After the Rising and Before the Fall by Orna Ross
These are two big books, with real depth and understanding of people’s motives and situations. It tackles over these two books a woman’s situation as she returns to a place dominated by both her own memories and a complex family history in the context of a fractured community. These books are undoubtedly an achievement of the highest order, and they form the first two parts of the “Irish Trilogy”. The writing is incredibly detailed, moving its focus from the present in 1995, and 1925. It is mainly from Jo Devereux’s point of view, especially it is often directly through her eyes, and so we have memories from her childhood in 1966. It is thus a challenging read which moves backwards and forwards time. It is an immersive read in so many ways. The landscape of shifting sands, the bleak weather and the buildings in which people exist are all vividly described, as are the small details of life. There are letters which set out important messages, reveal truths long hidden, hint at secrets long held. The dialogue is also vivid, revealing much of the personalities involved, the time in which the action takes place and more. This is a book of fine writing, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this mixture of historical and more contemporary stories.
Jo Devereux returns to Ireland from San Francisco too late to see her mother alive once more, not having spoken for some twenty years. She almost misses her mother’s funeral, and her arrival sparks off gossip. She left a complicated family situation behind, and now her return creates much speculation. Her meeting with Rory O’Donovan evokes many memories of her childhood and more complicated emotions which may prove difficult in light of the surprises and secrets emerging while she has been away. Jo’s own experiences while she has been away have not all been positive – they have included a tragedy which she only refers to in passing at first, and other brief relationships which have had their effect on her life. Success in writing a syndicated column has meant that she has more than survived, but the cost is not always obvious. She has brought back a secret that will fundamentally affect her life, a secret which will only take full effect in the second book.
There is an important surprise which is revealed after her mother’s death by an unexpected source; her inheritance from her mother. A trunkful of papers and diaries introduce vast swathes of family documents, and her mother had hoped that Jo’s skills at writing could be used to put together a family history. Instead of a sedate procession of family stories, the documents reveal years of division and hate that have poisoned relationships and left scars until the present day. With women and men who have fought and died as well as the trivia of more mundane events, the first book introduces many problems in Jo’s life; can love and purpose in the second novel begin to resolve some of the damage done over so many years?
This is a book written with an excellent ear for the voices of the past and the present , the shocks and pain inflicted by people, the suffering of loss and the pleasures of love. The explanations and anecdotes are beautifully rendered with the power of vivid imagination rooted in popular tales and legends. The characters are equally vivid, revealed with a sure hand, including the strong minded grandmother and her companion Auntie Norah, the sister who is shocked by Jo’s actions. This is a memorable book which has a wide sweep of emotions and a powerful range of descriptions of events which exceed any straightforward storytelling, all enacted by characters outside easy definition.