Call Home the Heart
The premise of Call Home the Heart, centering on a young widow and her estate manager as they try to rebuild an impoverished estate in 19th Century Ireland is an interesting one. While this book has its strengths, it also has far too many rough spots to garner a recommendation.
The novel opens dramatically as Muireann Caldwell is discovered in a Dublin hotel hysterically crying over the body of her new husband who, from all appearances, has shot himself in the head. Lochlainn Roche, the Caldwells’s estaste manager, has come to Dublin to meet the Caldwells and escort them back to their estate at Barnakilla, but instead of meeting a joyous honeymooning couple, he finds himself helping the new widow make funeral arrangements and travel to Barnakilla on her own.
As she prepares for the journey, Muireann discovers that Augustine was not the affluent man she believed him to be since the estate is in complete disarray and the tenants near starvation. Muireann’s desire to be independent and her compassion for the tenants at Barnakilla leads her to sell all she has and set out on a desperate quest to rebuild the estate and keep it going so that she and her new tenants will be able to live securely and not fear starvation or eviction.
As they work side by side managing the estate, Muireann and Lochlainn learn to respect one another, with each relying on and gradually learning to trust the other. The friendship and trust between them quickly flares into something deeper, but each fears that their relationship cannot last due to secrets that haunt them both.
To start with the positive aspects of the novel, this book really shines when Farrell concentrates on the realities of rebuilding Barnakilla. Her descriptions of the dire lot of tenants during the Potato Famine and of the business pressures faced by the landowners made for compelling reading. Though Muireann seems at times to be a bit too business-savvy for someone who has led a rather sheltered life, it is still interesting to watch her come up with ideas for saving her newfound home.
The romance in this book, however, does not fare so well. From the initial relationship between Muireann and Lochlainn to the manner in which their romance is treated by those around them, one would think that class barriers just did not exist in 19th century Ireland. In addition, characters react as though two unmarried characters sharing a bed was perfectly normal and acceptable – not something I considered believable in a very Catholic country during the mid-19th century.
These sorts of anachronisms would be easier to handle if Muireann and Lochlainn were an otherwise likable couple. Even though they generally trust one another while working on the estate, they seem to be deeply insecure in their personal relationship. On several occasions, each one shows signs of jumping to completely irrational conclusions about the other for no good reason. Instead of seeming like a loving couple, both parties seemed irrational and immature.
These problems, combined with some unnecessary melodrama toward the end of the book, made this a somewhat less than average read for me. The setting, the history, and the non-romantic portions of the plot are fascinating, but even these cannot save the rather unsympathetic couple at the heart of the story.