Setting: Ireland, 1860-present
The book is now complete, and now a mini-review before the main review. The book is about a man named Charlie O’Brien, who, at the advanced age of 40, meets and falls in love with a woman named April Burke (who is around 19-23, probably closer to 23). The woman fears the man and finds him disturbing. The man is not put off and continues to seek her. Many years pass. Eventually the woman allows the man to help her in several important tasks. All told against the backdrop of the Irish War of Independence. Now the review that I wrote before the book was finished. The review that I was going to update as I went along, which I did for the most part up to chapter 4, but which I cannot now completely rewrite as I know too much now.
I begin this review with a warning: this review is based on an early reviewer copy of the book, and my review might be out-of-date by the time the book is actually released in November 2007 (this review is written in mid-August 2007).
The beginning is very interesting and I was annoyed when I had to stop when I arrived at my metro station. Both because I did not want to stop, and because the natural break point (or a natural break point) had not yet been reached - the end of the first chapter (page 98).
The book bounces between two primary narrators. The first narrator is a Charles O’Brien whose life during the late 1800s and early 19000s is told in his own words through a manuscript found in a trunk in the 1990s. The manuscript tells O’Brien’s life story against the backdrop of the history of Ireland of the period. The second primary narrator is a man who remains unnamed until the fourth chapter. He describes the finding of the manuscript and offers historical data on some of O’Brien’s comments. Secondary narrators tell their story through journals and letters ((1) April Burke, (2) Mrs. O’Brien (Charles mother), and (3) Joseph Harney (oral history project, transcribed).
I have read many of these “manuscripts inside of manuscripts” works, but every prior work I had read had most of the action occurring in the present. This is the first time I’ve read this type of work where most of the action occurs in the past (injecting here from the wisdom of having read the whole book now to note that this is mostly true until the fourth chapter). For the first twenty pages, this mixture of O’Brien’s life and unnamed narrator narrating was quite interesting, but eventually I just wanted the narrator to stop interrupting the story (true until the fourth chapter - do not be discouraged - continue reading!). At times this mixture of manuscripts seems to be unneeded and to draw the reader out of the story, but there is an important element here. An important reason for the mix of past and future that will not be seen until much later.
Would I recommend this book to others? For most of the book, I was very leery of coming to this question. Now that I’ve read the book, I do in fact recommend the book. As long as a reader likes history, and family.