If you want to know how to write a novel, read this book and pay attention. There are moments of brilliant writing, and the story itself is a well-crafted and tightly woven work masterfully done.
The story takes place in Ireland, and revolves around Jamie McCloone, a farmer who had been raised in an orphanage until the age of ten, and Lydia Devine, a school teacher who, even at forty-one, is subject to her demanding mother.
In the orphanage Jamie was abused and tortured by the nuns. The children under their “care” were systematically beaten, starved, hired out as slaves, denied decent food, clothing, and warmth, and were otherwise abused. The sections of the story dealing with this are quite disturbing, and based on true events. The end result is that Jamie was deprived of that part of his childhood, suffers from depression, and on occasion entertains suicide. He has been left to live on his own by the death of his uncle.
Lydia had been raised by a Protestant pastor and his wife, with the result that she is sexually and socially repressed. She longs to be free of her mother and to have a husband.
Lydia and Jamie are both searching for a partner of the opposite sex. Lydia’s friend convinces her to place a personal ad in the paper (the story takes place in 1974, before the internet or cell phones). Jamie’s friends convince him to look in the paper for such an ad. He finds Lydia’s and writes to her. That’s all I’ll tell you about the plot. The story is told in three parallel threads. The present-day story of Jamie and Lydia, and occasional flashbacks to the orphanage.
More than the plot, though, the book is about the soul-crushing effect of organized religion, and the human spirit’s ability to overcome it if left free of it. It’s about how the horrors and repression that spring naturally from religion are thrust upon children with devastating effect.
My only criticism is that it was written in the omniscient voice, and that the end was somewhat rushed. We often hopped from one person’s thoughts to another within the same paragraph. Although this is not normally done today, it was not offensive.
It is a great read. Five stars.