I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the social media tour for A River in the Trees by Jacqueline O’Mahony alongside my tour buddies, Laura Patricia Rose, somewhereinabook and tome.raiders. Thanks to Ana at Quercus Books for inviting me to take part in the tour and for approving my request for the book on NetGalley. You can read my review of this captivating dual-time historical novel below.
About the Book
Two women. Two stories. One hundred years of secrets.
1919 – Hannah is nineteen years old and living on her family’s farm in West Cork. Her peaceful world is shattered forever by the eruption of the War of Independence. Hannah’s family hide rebel soldiers in their attic, putting themselves in grave danger from the Black and Tans roaming the countryside. An immediate connection between and O’Riada, the leader of the rebel band, will change her life and that of her family forever.
2019 – Ellen is at a crossroads in her life: her marriage is in trouble, her career is over and she’s grieving the loss of a baby. After years in London, she decides to come home to Ireland to face the past she has always tried to escape. Her journey centres on an old house in the countryside, a house that used to belong to her family. Reaching into the past, she feels a connection to her ancestor, the mysterious Hannah O’Donovan. But why won’t anyone in her family talk about Hannah? And how can this journey help Ellen put her life back together?
Praise for A River in the Trees
“A fierce, beautifully told story, which keeps the reader gripped until the very last page. Jacqueline O’ Mahony is one to watch.” [Louise O’Neill]
“Compassionate yet unsentimental, sharply insightful yet steeped in story, this debut is a thrill to discover.” [Belinda McKeon, author of Tender]
Format: Hardcover, ebook (336 pp.) Publisher: riverrun
Published: 10th January 2019 Genre: Historical Fiction
Find A River in the Trees on Goodreads
Told from alternating points of view, the stories and experiences of the two women – Hannah in 1919 and Ellen in the present day – subtly mirror each other in some respects and provide contrasts in others. The author leaves it to the reader to make the connections or note the differences between how the two women respond to the events that unfold in their lives and the choices they make.
Ellen is a troubled, lost soul, seemingly suffering from a form of post-natal depression, who has turned to alcohol as an emotional crutch and reached a crisis point in her life. ‘I’m in a tunnel now, she thought – my life is narrowing down and down and behind me is every wrong decision I’ve ever made and ahead of me if only fear, and I can’t move forwards, and I can’t move back.’ The loss of their baby has exposed the pre-existing fissures in the relationship between Ellen and her husband, Simon. Their instincts, choices and responses to events seem so fundamentally different it is no surprise that their marriage is in trouble. (What is a surprise is that they married in the first place). ‘There was so much of Simon and he was so sure of himself and so unshakeable; he moved through his days like a ship moving through an icy sea, breaking through the ice before him, unaffected, untouchable.’ In a way, Ellen’s interest in Hannah’s story is a distraction from having to think about her own future. She has spent her whole life running away from things. ‘It is easier to leave, to disappear, she thought sadly. The harder thing is to stay and face yourself.’
The sections written from Ellen’s point of view, especially as she struggles to control her anxiety, evoked feelings of sympathy in this reader but she is a character it is difficult to really like. I felt more personally engaged in Hannah’s story and concern for how the unfolding events would affect her, especially as I was drawn to the historical aspects of her story. From fairly early on, the reader knows there is some mystery about what happened to Hannah – but will the answers be revealed by Hannah herself or by Ellen’s discovery of details about past events?
I found myself thinking as I was reading the sections from Hannah’s point of view that I wished I knew more (or perhaps should know more) about the history of Ireland in the early part of the 20th century. The reader gets a strong sense of Ireland and Irish identity from the way in which the author writes about its landscape, culture and history and the narrative and dialogue is gently permeated with the rhythm and vernacular of the Irish language. Through Hannah’s deeply felt connection with her family home and lands, and Ellen’s desire to own something that connects her to her ancestral roots, I was left with a sense of Ireland as a place that inhabits those who are born there, even if they move away.
The book is full of clever, skilful writing, imaginative language and evocative descriptions: ‘The ditches on either side were too high to see over. It was like descending into a sea of green water: the air was green, the sky overhead was green; the car was swimming through the greenness.’
A River in the Trees is an assured and impressive debut. From the dramatic opening scene, I found myself transfixed by the story it tells and I look forward to reading more from Jacqueline O’Mahony in future.
I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, riverrun, and NetGalley.
In three words: Lyrical, emotional, compelling
Try something similar…The Concubine’s Child by Carol Jones (read my review here)
About the Author
Jacqueline O’Mahony is from Cork, Ireland. She did her BA in Ireland, her MA at the University of Bologna, and her PhD in History as a Fulbright Scholar at Duke University and at Boston College. She has worked as a writer, editor and stylist at Tatler, Vogue and the Irish Independent. She lives in Notting Hill with her husband and three young children.
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