Location, Irish Location, Location

Review: “The Stolen Child” by Lisa Carey

I’ve never been to Ireland except for a layover at the Dublin airport en route to somewhere else. So I haven’t experienced Ireland. After reading Lisa Carey’s “The Stolen Child,” I must.

The Stolen Child
Lisa Carey
Harper Perennial

Much in the same way I thought it would be excellent to visit—if not full-up relocate to—Guernsey in the Channel Islands after reading “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society,” I am moved, if not literally, by a novel’s setting.

If an author can write so precisely and captivatingly that I am in that place in that time, you’ve got me way before the hello. I’m hooked and lauding the book’s praises even when others think it’s a dud. Many of my reader friends were really disappointed with “Into the Water,” Paula Hawkins’ novel that followed her acclaimed “The Girl on the Train.” I, though, was so taken with that book’s dank and dark small British river town that I loved it. Forward my mail.

My travel budget is nonexistent, so reading helps.

With “The Stolen Child,” Carey, who lives in Portland and says she spends as much time as possible in Ireland, takes readers to the far reaches of the Emerald Isle and then some. This is a deep-rooted tale with strong women characters, and you can’t ask for much more in this Erin Go Bragh month.

The setting is Saint Brigid’s Island, 12 miles west of Ireland. With many cliffs and no harbor, it’s a “treeless, three-mile stretch of bog and rock.” But it’s green, lush and inviting with its foot-worn trails and little hidden havens. Getting there is spotty, depending on the weather, which looms large and tragically, but summers on the island, which is “perched like a jagged accident above the water,” are glorious.

The story is steeped in Irish mysticism. There’s a secret well with miracle water, a history of island fairies good and bad, and remnants of an ancient enclave of (feminist!) nuns. In 1959, the islanders are mostly stalwart women who have overcome tragedies to persevere. They have no electricity, no doctor or priest, and they are about to be controversially evacuated to an amenities-rich community set up especially for them on the mainland.

Emer and Rose are twins, born and raised on the island. Both are young mothers and wives. Their sisterly love is strong, but they have very different stories and outlooks. Emer has an off-putting appearance, a power she works hard to control and an only son she works mightily to protect. Rose has a brood of kids and is admired. When an American woman arrives to claim her legacy and, more importantly, seek her own solutions in the ways of the Irish, her impact on Emer and Rose is as different as the sisters themselves.

“The Stolen Child” is rich, drama-filled and very Irish. See you there?

Amy Canfield cannot travel nearly as much as she wishes so she does so vicariously by reading about places from her home in South Portland.

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