Gracelin O’Malley is a farmer’s daughter living a hard life in rural Ireland when she catches the eye of the local squire. In order to save her family from financial ruin, she marries the disreputable Englishman. Thus begins what seems like an oft-told tale.
Don’t be fooled. Ann Moore’s sweeping novel about the Irish Famine is anything but ordinary. Fifteen-year-old Grace is only the center of the tale. The story’s web widens to include rebels, English soldiers, starving Catholics, renegade priests, Anglo-Irish land agents, and British aristocracy – and so, as in all truly great fiction, the reader is led from the personal to the public, from the local to the international. It would be easy with such a subject to show bias, but Moore deftly avoids tarring the English characters with a single brush – or gilding the Irish with another. This complexity of character is the novel’s greatest strength. Grace herself has a streak of darkness. Even her husband, a wife-beating alcoholic, shows a glimmer of grace.
Gracelin O’Malley is a grand historical novel in the old style – full of triumph, full of tragedy, full of hope and strength of spirit. The author, in her notes, hints at a sequel. I’ll be first in line to buy it.