* Prices may differ from that shown
Review of 'A Long Way From Heaven', a novel by Sheelagh Kelly
I am reviewing the paperback version of this novel, published by Arrow Books.
ISBN 00994609042, 539 pages, cover price £6.99.
Genre:- Fiction/Family Saga.
A Long Way From Heaven is the first in a family saga featuring the Feeney family. The other books are Erin's Child, For My Brother's Sins and My Father, My Son.
The story opens in Southern Ireland in 1846. Young married couple, Patrick and Mary Feeney are expecting their first child. Like many young Irish couples of the time, the pair are living with Patrick's widowed father and working the family's rented land to support themselves. They grow potatoes and keep a small amount of livestock, money is not plentiful, but there is enough to go around.
One morning Patrick and Mary wake to find a foul smell hanging over their land. On investigation, Pat and his father discover that the dreaded potato blight has decimated their crop, rotting the potatoes in the ground, instead of a healthy crop of tubers, the family have nothing left but an evil smelling slime. It transpires that the same blight has affected everyone in their community, some for the second year running. No potatoes mean not only no food for the rural community, but no seed for a new crop. The devastation has far reaching effects and before long the Feeneys are facing ruin and starvation. Staunch Catholics, Pat and Mary are persuaded by the parish priest to take a charitable handout and try their luck in England as many have before them.
The young couple travel to Liverpool where they find that the Irish immigrants are most unpopular with the local residents who view them with suspicion. A chance meeting with a fellow Irishman sees the couple joining him to tramp across England to York to try their luck there.
On arrival in York, the Feeneys find lodgings in the slums of the Walmgate area of the city and Pat finds work as a builder's labourer. Life is harsh, their home is in a gloomy yard, surrounded by other slum dwellings and bordered by a stinking slaughterhouse. Filth, poverty and disease are rife, yet the hardships endured seem to bring together the Irish community and very soon the Feeney's begin to build a new life for themselves.
The birth of their daughter, Erin, adds to their happiness, however this is short lived when Mary is taken ill. She has contracted Typhoid and subsequently dies, leaving Pat to bring up their little girl alone. He is devastated and turns against the Catholic church, blaming a seemingly harsh God for all his problems.
The story then continues covering several decades in the life of Patrick Feeney and Erin, his daughter. How do they cope? How does Patrick fare as a single Father?
No spoilers here, you will have to read the book for yourself to find out!
==My Thoughts and Conclusion==
I picked this book up at a local charity book sale, I chose it as the synopsis read well and the story sounded interesting. I remember learning about the Irish potato famine of the 1840's in history lessons at school, the era and the subject have interested me ever since. My history teacher would be surprised to know that her lessons have stuck with me for nearly 40 years!
I must admit that Sheelagh Kelly is not an author I had come across before, which in a way is good, as I had no preconceived thoughts about the novel. I found I liked her writing style, she has an excellent way with her characters and they were brought to life for me with her wonderful descriptive text. The book is packed with believable, colourful characters and the dialogue is fresh, snappy, crisp and very well written. I found the addition of Irish phrases and sayings enhanced the story very well.
The plot is a fairly typical one for a family saga, however it is in no way predictable. I do not mean to sound pompous here, but I feel that as a voracious reader, I have encountered so many novels of this type, that I can usually predict the outcome. Not so with 'A Long Way From Heaven'!
As the reader is led through various events faced by the characters, the author has intertwined several sub plots which add to the interest.
I think that the fact that the author has known similar slum locations and the Feeneys home was based on the place her grandparents had lived, has added to the realism and readability of this novel.
All in all, I would recommend this book to others, I thoroughly enjoyed it and intend looking out for the follow up novels in the series. That said, I do feel that this book can be read as a stand alone novel.
I am awarding this book a 5* rating.
Thank you for reading
©brittle1906 November 2011
N.B. My reviews may be found on other sites under the same user name.