Ann Moore puts her heroine through the trials of Job in this sequel to the eponymous Gracelin O’Malley. Gracelin O’Malley Donnelly McDonagh is the widowed mother of four children — two dead, one living, and one a sickly premature infant left in a nunnery. Gracelin is wanted for questioning by the British, both as the widow of an infamous Irish rebel and as a suspect in a murder. Weak from childbirth in a famished country rife with disease and danger, she decides to escape Ireland.
This is only the backstory, and alas, Leaving Ireland suffers from its weight. En route to America in a coffin ship, Gracelin makes enemies but survives the voyage, scooping up an orphan en route. In New York City she finds her emigrant brother and easy work in a Bowery saloon. She befriends an escaped slave who shares the guilt of being forced to leave loved ones behind. But for all the diverse characters, the fine depiction of 1840s New York, and the tease of a budding romance, the tale is arrow-straight and heavy with Gracelin’s struggle with grief. Leaving Ireland is best considered an interlude–a breathing space between the fierce, complex, emotional Gracelin O’Malley and the third book with its anticipated trip west–not a tale that can stand comfortably on its own.
That’s to be expected. Ann Moore writes gloriously untidy narratives full of quiet joys and more often, terrible tragedies, tales that I suspect will always end unfinished. My recommendation is to brew a pot of tea, settle by the fire, read Gracelin O’Malley then Leaving Ireland, and wonder when, when, will the third book be published?