The Irish Girl
After reading The Irish Girl, I am exhausted and need a glass of wine. If I smoked, I’d gladly take a cigarette too. It’s a compelling, complex and poignant read that slowly lures the reader in and weaves itself into the mind and heart. Almost every human emotion is experienced during the book and stamina is needed to process all of the feelings produced by this exhilarating drama. This is the first book in the Deverill Chronicles trilogy; therefore, there are two more rounds of this gut-wrenching roller coaster in the future, and I cannot wait to take the ride again.
The Irish Girl spans from 1909 to 1925 and packs in a lot of plot over the span of its sixteen years. Castle Deverill in Cork, Ireland forms the backbone of the book while Ireland serves as its heart. The Anglo-Irish aristocratic family, the Deverills, built the castle and made Ireland their home more than two hundred years earlier, having been given the land by King Charles II after it was seized from the O’Leary family. Legend proclaims that after the English confiscated their land, the O’Learys cursed all of the Deverill men to ensure they never find peace after death and will haunt Castle Deverill for eternity. The curse is effective, because there are ghosts in the story giving it a dash of the paranormal. Although they are not a huge part of the plot, their presence is unexpected and unbelievable unless you wholeheartedly accept the existence of ghosts and their ability to talk to the living.
In 1909, three generations of Deverills reside at the castle and its surrounding estate – Hubert and Adeline, their son Bertie and his wife Maud and their four children. Kitty Deverill is nine years old and the youngest of the family. She was the unwanted fourth child of her narcissistic mother who now has little to do with her and barely tolerates her presence. Kitty’s mother’s attitude sets the tone for the family’s behavior and everyone ignores her except for her grandmother, Adeline, who feels a deep affection for her. The two women not only look alike but they are also the only Deverills with the “gift of sight.” They can see and communicate with the castle’s ghosts. Kitty’s grandmother’s attention gives the girl a sense of self worth that she would have never possessed considering her family’s indifference. Kitty is a charming child and one of the most endearing characters in the book.
One of the benefits of being ignored by most of the adults, is that Kitty is allowed to grow up and form relationships with the local children, Birdie Doyle and Jack O’Leary. She would otherwise never have been allowed to associate with them due to their inferior social status, lack of English ancestry and Catholic faith. Birdie is the daughter of Castle Deverill’s cook, and she and Kitty consider themselves “soul sisters” although both realize Birdie is destined to work for Kitty’s family. Jack is the son of the local veterinarian and his family is the descendant of the very O’Leary family who lost their land to the Deverills. The three share the bonding experiences of youth, and the reader witnesses their journey and begins to feel deeply connected to them. Ms. Montefiore does an exceptional job of developing her characters and bringing them to life.
As the three friends transition from childhood to adulthood, their lives and their world begin to experience dramatic shifts. War threatens on the continent in 1914 and soon erupts, forcing the English – including the Deverill men – to leave and join the fight. With the Deverill men overseas, Kitty’s mother and her two older sisters begin to leave her and spend more time away from Ireland visiting their English cousins and attending the season. Most of the Deverills consider themselves more Anglo than Irish, but Kitty considers herself Irish first and has a deep affinity for the country and its people.
By 1917, with the war still raging, Kitty and Jack’s friendship has evolved from innocent childhood friendship to a deep and abiding adult love. Birdie is now Kitty’s maid and – for the first time ever – Kitty does not confide in Birdie and tell her about her new relationship with Jack. When Birdie discovers the two are now in love, she is devastated, because she also loves Jack. The three friends’ relationship is irrevocably altered as jealousy and anger infect the affection they once shared for each other.
Kitty never leaves Jack or Ireland, and as the First World War comes to a close, Irish resentment against English rule escalates. Jack is a staunch supporter of Ireland’s independence and vows to fight with the Nationalists. Kitty feels the same although she knows her family would never accept her beliefs or her relationship with Jack, and she is eventually forced to choose between her family and Jack and her country. She can either elope with Jack or stay at Castle Deverill with only the Jack’s promise that he will one day return to her.
Birdie is estranged from Jack and Kitty and resentful towards them and her role as a servant. She is already deeply unhappy when she experiences a personal tragedy that drives her to leave Ireland and start a new life in America. Jack, Kitty and Birdie must each make brutally difficult choices concerning their families, their romantic loves and their country. Ms. Montefiore makes it impossible to predict what their choices will be or how those choices will affect their lives.
The Irish Girl builds slowly and weaves itself into the mind and heart. It is easy to invest in the lives of not just the central characters, but the secondary ones, as they are so fully developed and key to the breadth and scope of the story. Their points of view are included and the insight into their thoughts is interesting, although the execution is less than ideal. The transitions between points of view are abrupt and brief, sometimes leading to confusion as to exactly whose thoughts are being expressed. This and the inclusion of the ghosts are the only weaknesses in an otherwise excellent novel.
I admit that while I was reading, my anticipation about how things were going to work out grew to such heights that I was tempted to skip to the end just to relieve my growing anxiety. I am glad I did not, because the journey is very rewarding. I also did not realize at the time I started the book that it is the first in a trilogy, so reading ahead would not have answered all my questions. While some of the storylines are wrapped up in this first installment, the saga will continue in the next two books, and I will definitely read both. Before I begin either, I know now to rest up and prepare myself for the emotional continuation of the epic, thrilling and beautiful The Irish Girl.
Every year I experience a wave of sadness when I realize I am too old to attend summer camp. I used to be a CFO, but I can never escape accounting because someone always needs a number cruncher. I am a Texan happily living in California.