That rating is 3- in reality and even that feels a bit generous to me.
When Andrew Echlin’s wife dies, leaving behind Andrew and two grown sons, the man realises how important the woman was for the smooth running of his farm on the coast of Northern Ireland. Needing someone to take over the tasks his wife used to take care of, Echlin invites Martha Gormartin and her 30 year old daughter Sarah to come and live and work on his farm.
It isn’t long before both of Echlin’s sons, Frank and Hamilton take an interest in Sarah, an interest that is mutual.
When Sarah falls pregnant and gives birth to a son she refuses to name either of the brothers as the father and declines to marry either of them. This decision sends Sarah’s mother to an early grave and leads to the Echlin farm and its inhabitants being more or less shunned by the puritan Ulster community they live in.
It is only twenty years later, when there is only one brother left and Sarah’s second child, a daughter, wants to get married, that Sarah can be persuaded to marry the remaining brother.
This is a very grim and equally bare story.
What the author offers the reader are snapshots of a life in a time in the past during which horse drawn carts were still the normal form of transport in Ulster. What we get are glimpses at people and their surroundings without every finding out enough about either to feel any attachment to them. Motivations are hinted at but rarely clarified, feelings, when mentioned are suppressed and rarely if ever shared.
I read somewhere that a good author shows but doesn’t tell his audience what is going on with the characters in his story. If that is true, this author went about conveying his message in completely the wrong way. Nothing is shown in these pages, everything is told and despite that, or maybe because of that, I never really got a feeling for any of the characters in the book. I think it is quite possible that I could have felt sympathy for Sarah or any of the other characters in the book if I had been given a better insight into their emotions and motivations. But, since the author was cryptic at best when it came to revealing his characters inner lives, I felt I really didn’t care about them or their fate at all.
I think this is a book that I would not have finished if it had not been a book for the “Dialogues Through Literature” programme and one that I will be discussing with my reading group at the end of the month. It doesn’t happen very often that I have to force myself to get back to a book, but with this one I found myself looking for excuses to do something else instead of reading.
I do understand why this book may have been picked for this reading programme; the story touches on the separation between Catholics and protestants and on the fact that although they had to cooperate occasionally to keep the community going, any conflict could and would be excused through that difference in faith and background.
The best I can say about this book is that it will make me appreciate future reads, ones that I do enjoy that much more than I might otherwise have. I guess that every now and again I need to be reminded that some books just aren’t for me.