Sunday, October 26, 2008

Two: Tipperary - Frank Delaney

Even before starting the actual text of this book, this reader was intrigued by the last paragraph of the author's note
This book tells the story of a passionate romance within an epic struggle for nationhood, and the narrators who tell it embody these varying perspectives: A thoughtful wanderer considers his country's upheavals alongside his heart's obsession; the fierce activist records his tale for his nation's archive; and a modern commentator tries to remain objective, until he discovers, deep in his researches, that in Ireland everything is personal, especially the past.
The first narrator (and main character), Charles O'Brien, warns the reader right away to "Be careful about me. Be careful about my country and my people and how we tell our history."

Charles is a healer by trade and travels around Ireland treating folks. He respects his countrymen and is acutely aware of all the upheaval - political and social - that he is living through. In 1900, he is summoned to a house in Paris to care for poet and playwright Oscar Wilde and there meets the woman of his dreams - April Burke. Mr. Wilde tells April about her grandmother, an actress named April Burke, whom he had seen in Dublin. He shares the story of how April married Terence Burke who owned a great estate in Tipperary. Charles, who had grown up right near this same estate in Tipperary, at once feels this meeting of a young woman is fate. Her inheritance is the one place that always been a place of great comfort for him as well as her great beauty. Charles tries to engage her in conversation after their meeting - but she ignores him.

Charles eventually ends up traveling with April's father Terence from London to visit the estate in Tipperary. After her father dies, April decides to petition the courts for her birthright - Tipperary Castle. She asks Charles to become caretaker of the estate and testify on her behalf, which he willing agrees to. As in any good romances - April marries Stephen Somerville, the lawyer helping her attain possession of the estate. Charles is distraught - but continues with his duties at the estate. The local folks are not happy with April's lawsuit and cause Charles to be shot and wounded one night.

At this point, the identity of the second narrator is revealed - Michael Nugent, a modern day historian. The storyline with Charles and April is put on hold, so that the reader can understand why Michael is researching Charles and where the accounts referenced so far came from. Also at this point, the third and final narrator is introduced - Joseph Harney - the activist. Harney rescues Charles after he is shot and becomes his companion from that point forward.

April is awarded possession of the estate in 1911, but Charles is not healthy enough to continue to be caretaker. Not until 1915 does April approach Charles again to help her restore Tipperary Castle back to it's original form. For the next seven years, Charles, Harney and April oversee massive restorations on the estate while Ireland's independence movement from England lingers in the background.

This novel draws the reader in immediately and embraces the historical context for which it is set in. The main character is likeable but not bold at the same time. You can feel his genuine love to help others and loyalty to Ireland. I appreciate how Delaney uses multiple narrators to help set context and provide different perspectives on the same event.

Delaney, Frank. Tipperary: A Novel. Random House Trade Paperbacks (2007). 445 pages. ISBN 0812975944.

I heard Frank Delaney speak at a luncheon in Boston in 2005. The luncheon was part of my first library conference. I don't remember too much about what Delaney spoke about - but I do remember saying to myself "I need to read one of his books."

At first I was leary of the multiple narrators within this book, because it required me to stop and figure out who was talking in order to understand the context. Until the historian was revealed as the second narrator, I thought that the second narrator was just Frank Delaney providing historical context to Charles' narrative. Journal entries from Charles' mom, Amelia, help tell the story from different (a woman's) perspective as well as letters from April to her friends.

It is truly amazing how many historical persons and events that Delaney intertwines into Charles' story. James Joyce, Charles Stewart Parnell, William Butler Yeats and George Bernard Shaw are just a few from his earlier days traveling around Ireland as well as visiting London and Paris. Charles also interacts with Michael Collins a notable Irish revolutionary and other members of the Flying Columns.

I appreciated how both World War I and the Ireland's War of Independence became part of the storyline. Charles at one point tries to join the army, but it rejected because of his age and his injuries. I do feel that the ending was a little too predictable and almost Disney movie like. While I enjoyed the book immensely, I felt that Delaney leaves the reader wanting to know more about April and Charles' relationship. Without giving too much away, I kinda felt cheated at the end by the limited way that Delaney continues the story line but rushes to wrap up loose ends at the end of the novel.

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