Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Review: "Yellow House" by Patricia Falvey

Yellow House is a debut novel set in Ulster during the early decades of the 20th Century when the Irish were attempting to extract their independence from England.  I liked the novel.

Unlike too many historical novelists, the author does not give in to the temptation to provide too much context and historical back story.  (She does have a notes section at the end that provides a brief historical overview, which is a nice touch.)  I like that treatment: it allows the reader to be caught up in the drama of the plot itself, without a lot of facts, dates or background. I think that puts the reader much closer to the experience of the characters, who rarely have historical context for their own lives, especially in times of crisis.  She did a good job of exploiting the drama of a historical crisis to tell a very personal story without overloading the book with historical details.  Kudos for that!

The characters were interesting and sympathetic, if a trifle too much.  Eileen is too brave and too  unconventional.  James is too rakish, sexy and committed to his Cause.  Owen is at first too confused and needy and, then later, he becomes too perfect. Some of the most interesting characters are the second tier group.  I loved Theresa and PJ and the members of the band.  Somehow it all works in the end -- which is the magic of a novel. The characters are sympathetic people the reader can care about, and the plot rocks on,  careening around twists and turns, some of which the reader sees coming but most of which are delicious surprises. The story throws the main character under the bus so many times it was exhausting. The story was very emotional.  I absolutely love a book that makes me actually cry. This one was a two hankie story!

I'd have liked for it to have included more of the lilting, poetic Irish narrative that I love.  The first paragraph set me up to expect that.  The second paragraph pulled the rug out from under the idea of this being a lovely tale of bucolic life in the Irish countryside. After that, the plot was off to the races. Falvey's a good writer; I wouldn't have minded if she'd let herself indulge in a little more descriptive narrative.

I would definitely read another book by this author, but I don't think I'd read this particular story a second time.

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