An Ocean Between Us
A first effort at historical fiction by an established literary author, An Ocean Between Us begins as a flashback from present-day New York to coastal southern Ireland in 1943. Aileen Sweeney, now retirement age, reminisces about her conflict-torn childhood and the life choices she made.
The novel hangs strongly on the notion that despite Ireland’s neutrality, for some Irish the World Wars were double battles: as they struggled against continental fascist powers as well as the remnants of English colonialism. In the novel, the political strife around Irish independence is mirrored in family life.
In her eighteenth year, Aileen meets and falls passionately in love with Niall O’Rourke, a soldier in the Irish Defence Force, the military arm of what would become the Irish Republic. Niall’s fated decision to leave and pledge service to the British Army causes Aileen’s pro-nationalist father to revoke his permission for the couple to marry. Forever viewed as a turncoat and social pariah despite his heroism in battle abroad, Niall clings to Aileen’s promise to wait for him. In the interim, Aileen faces turmoil and challenges of her own, maturing quickly in the bigger city of Belfast, and vowing to start a new life in America as she is courted by Marvin, a US soldier from New York. The central conflict of the novel is set up: will Aileen wait for Niall?
Character compensates for the somewhat simplistic plotline, and the author is adept at instilling personality into such colorful personae as Aileen’s sister Briana and jaded big-city friend Mary. This despite some consistently stereotypical dialect and weak research (e.g., all of Long Island is not part of New York City), perhaps to be forgiven a first-effort at historical fiction. The style is breezy and readable, despite some filler, but reads more like a romance novel overall.