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Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan
This book came with me to the USA for two reasons. Firstly I always try to take books that I have picked up through Bookcrossing with me when I go on holiday and secondly I like to read books set in the country that I am visiting when on holiday. This was not quite where we were in the USA but at least it was set in the USA for part of the story.
A BIT ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kate Kerrigan was brought up in London but both her parents were Irish. She now lives in Ireland with her family. She has written at least two other novels, her first, 'Recipes for a Perfect Marriage', was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelist of the Year Award.
Initially the story is set in Ireland. Ellie is the only daughter of rather odd parents. Her father wanted to be a priest but for some reason didn't make it but is weirdly religious and not at all loving or in any communicative with his family. Her mother also appears to be rather odd and far from a loving caring parent. The family isolate themselves from the rest of the local community so Ellie is a lonely child until she is asked to play with a young orphan boy adopted by neighbours, John.
Ellie and John are inseparable and Ellie dotes on him. John finds everything around him wonderful and is a happy popular boy at school. He and Ellie don't really play much together at school as John is so popular with the other lads while Ellie is left with the other friendless and unpopular girls to go around with.
As time goes on Ellie spends more time at John's with his adoptive parents who are warm and caring but once Ellie is sent to boarding school they see less of each other. Ellie enjoys boarding school and at one stage she decides to become a nun to her father's pride.
John becomes an apprentice joiner/carpenter and goes away for a number of years returning just before Ellie is about to enter the convent.
In fact they get married and start married life in a pretty basic hut. John becomes involved in the IRA and is badly injured.
The next stage in the story is set in America, hence the book's title. Ellie goes to America to raise enough money for John's operation. She starts work as a domestic servant and hates America but ends up loving it and wanting John to come over and join her.
I won't give away any more of the story as I don't want to spoil it for you but suffice to say it ends up back in Ireland with a very changed Ellie and a not very different Ireland.
I did enjoy the book as it is written in a very easy style. The descriptions of the countryside, the hut that the newly weds live in and the journey on the boat going to America are really vivid and make you feel you are there.
Ellie's initial sense of being totally overwhelmed with everything in American is portrayed with such detail that I really felt I was with Ellie finding all the new strange and at time alarming things she was experiencing.
The author was able to portray pre Independent Ireland, early 20th century America and post Independent Ireland all with the same accuracy and sensitivity.
The characters were so believable. Ellie started as a sad and lonely but bright child and grew gradually into a feisty, determined, intelligent and very loyal woman. Her ability to take on challenges and her amazing strength of character could have been rather too much to believe but somehow you could believe she had that strength because you had seen her developing over the years.
I found John initially likeable but I really wanted to give him a good slap part way through the book because of his stubbornness and love of his country. I did find it hard to believe that someone could live their country more than their wife but then I have never fought for my country. I fact I have never felt that strongly for any cause that I would be prepared to sacrifice my life for it so it is hard to say what someone who had been through that might feel.
Ellie's parents were plain weird. Her father was hated in the community as he worked for the English government and that made him an outcast. His wife was brought up middle class and her parents had owned a shop which had not been very generous to the local community so both were not really popular which is why Ellie in turn was treated with disdain and ignored by the other children at school. She was also not allowed out to play with anyone either so she had a very odd upbringing. I suppose there were parents like that but it is amazing she grew into the selfless person she did as an adult.
John's adoptive parents were salt of the earth famers. They were poor, hardworking and very loving and generous. Perhaps Ellie took on more of their attitudes as she admired them and loved being over there so much. Maidy, His step mother I imagined as being unfazed by anything; she produced meals from things they grew, baked her own bread and always had time to help others even though they had very little themselves.
Essentially this is a love story, chick lit but set in an interesting time and I feel it also offered something a bit more. It made me think about how I would have behaved in similar circumstances and I have to admit I think I would have take a less moral route than Ellie. Maybe I am a weaker person or maybe my sense of fairness and loyalty would have made me more determined to have my way considering the sacrifices I had already made. It is hard to say but it did make me think.
SO IN SHORT
This is a light and easy read of about 350 pages of a decent size print. Not large print but not that tiny print you get in old paperbacks either! I was into the story straight away and found myself caring about the characters and what happened to them. My opinions around John changed during the book but my feelings for Ellie were always positive, you could not help but admire her strength of character. Incidental characters we meet along the way were also believable, interesting and memorable.
I would certainly look out for other books written by Kate Kerrigan but will not buy them in preference to the fifty or so I already have waiting on my shelves for me to read.
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