The Banyan Tree
The new paperback edition of Nolan’s 1999 novel should nudge those readers who haven’t already partaken of this reflective lyrical narrative. Spanning nearly the entire 20th century, The Banyan Tree is the story of Minnie O’Brien and her life in Drumhollow, Ireland. We begin at the end of Minnie’s life, as she re-lives her years with her parents, her early married life with her husband Peter, the chores on the farm, the births and lives of their three children, and her final years as she struggles to maintain the farm for her youngest son, Frankie, who left home at an early age but whom, Minnie is sure, will return someday. The eldest son, Brendan, is called to the priesthood, the middle child, Sheila, departs to become a nurse, leaving Minnie to put all her hopes in Frankie. The small-town setting comes to life in Nolan’s descriptions of the house, the activities of churning butter and riding the bus, the clock bought on the brief honeymoon in the big city of Dublin, and the greed of the neighbor who lusts after the O’Briens’ five fields.
There are similarities with Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley, not only in terms of the narrative–the elderly protagonist reflecting on the passage of time, family, events–but also in the use of colloquial language. This is not a novel to race through, and readers looking for a fast-paced story line should look elsewhere. Instead, this book is to be read and savored, as the tempo of the words reflects the slower, more contemplative eras of the story. Part poetry, part Joycean idiom, Nolan’s unique style will appeal to those with time to absorb his layers of meaning.