From Publishers Weekly
The Celtic and the gothic intertwine in this dark, dreamy hardcover debut by McBride (The Nature of Water and Air
) set in turn-of-the-20th-century Ireland. Deirdre O'Breen was raised primitively on the Great Island of Blasket, off the southwest coast of Ireland. After her parents die in mysterious circumstances when she is 14, she is sent to a convent school on the mainland and decides to become a nun. At the convent, she develops a schoolgirl crush on another novice, sharp-tongued Bairbre O'Breen. But her focus shifts when she meets Bairbre's devout, driven mother and handsome younger brother, Manus. Mrs. O'Breen orchestrates Manus and Deirdre's marriage, intending to use Deirde as "a kind of empty vessel like the Virgin Mary, who would carry holiness in her womb." The heavy burden of another's family legacy combined with the unspeakable secret of her own parents' death plunge Deirdre into unhappiness and despair. But when Mrs. O'Breen compels Deirdre to send her two teenaged daughters to the convent school and Deirdre finds herself pregnant, this time with a boy, she discovers the strength to share her family history with her daughters. McBride crafts her tale in rich, saturated language, though her misty-edged storytelling can be frustratingly insubstantial.
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McBride's hypnotic novel centers on Deirdre O'Breen, who, when the novel opens, is a Dublin housewife at the turn of the twentieth century. Her life, ordinary enough on the surface, in fact roils with unexpressed passion that reaches back into her childhood on the remote Blasket Islands. There, her mother, wild with the accumulated sorrows of a life where loved men were taken by the sea, killed herself, her husband following her with a brutal passion made more damaging by Deirdre's discovery of their sea-swept bodies. This submerged vision of love and death haunts Deirdre, to be brought out when her teenage daughters return to the very school to which she was sent as an orphan. McBride has created an eerie, compelling tale of pained love, in which the Irish setting is integral and never exotic. Patricia MonaghanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved