A River In The Trees by Jacqueline Mahony Riverrun January 10th 2019
A sweeping novel of love, loss, family and history for readers who love Maggie O’Farrell, John Boyne and Donal Ryan
Ireland is about to be torn apart by the War of Independence.
Hannah O’Donovan helps her father hide rebel soldiers in the attic, putting her family in great danger from the British soldiers who roam the countryside. An immediate connection between Hannah and O’Riada, the leader of this hidden band of rebels, will change her life and that of her family forever . . .
Ellen is at a crossroads: her marriage is in trouble, her career is over and she’s grieving the loss of a baby. After years in London, she decides to come home to Ireland to face the things she’s tried so hard to escape. Reaching into the past, she feels a connection to her ancestor, the mysterious Hannah O’Donovan. But why won’t anyone in her family talk about Hannah? And how can this journey help Ellen put her life back together?
How much do we honestly know about Ireland’s bid for independence in 1919, I for one knew little or nothing until I read Jacqueline O’Mahoney’s A River In The Trees.
Now I love historical fiction but I don’t like the sort that overwhelms you with facts and the minutiae of events, happily A River In The Trees was not of those novels. It was a novel that instead concentrated on the human aspects of conflict, and loyalty, and in particular the life of Hannah, a woman whose strength and bravery shone from the pages. It was her tenacity, and sheer bloody mindedness that drew me to her, that had me enthralled from the start.
Yet, it wasn’t just a novel about Hannah, it was also the story of Ellen, a woman who travelled to Ireland, her home country to view the old family farmhouse where Hannah once lived. Ellen was broken, grieving for the longed for child that died and a marriage that is literally non-existent. Where Hannah was strong and resilient, Ellen was quite literally a mess, emotions all over the place and her decision making at times left me frustrated. I wasn’t entirely sure if I felt sorry for her, or just wished that she would pull herself together and get on with it. She did however redeem herself as she slowly uncovered the history of her family and it was this angle that was most intriguing as I slowly began to link the past and the present.
The dual timelines were seamless and the use of alternating chapters each told from Hannah and Ellen’s point of view added depth, O’Mahoney able to explore the emotions and events that impacted on the two women’s lives. Although I enjoyed Ellen’s story I felt more drawn to Hannah’s, and at times wanted to read more about but appreciated the balance the author embedded in the novel.
It wasn’t only the characters that had a role, the Irish landscape lent itself to the drama of Hannah’s story. You could imagine the isolation, the bleakness and hardships the landscape imposed, that provided the perfect hiding places for the rebel soldiers and hindered the Black and Tans intent on catching their prey. The modern landscape was perhaps not quite so bleak but O’Mahney’s descriptions of the abandoned farmhouse with the families furniture still in situ, instead provided the dramatic picture of a family who left in a hurry and perhaps not for good reasons.
What I admired most about A River In The Trees was the slow but intense pacing, the gradual intertwining of the past and the present, the unknown fate of Hannah and Ellen preying on your mind as you read.
It was a novel that successfully balanced the history of a divided country with that of the pressures of modern life, of the cost to those personally involved, but with glimmers of hope that flickered throughout.
It was a novel that enthralled and one that I would highly recommend.
I would like to thank River Run for a copy of A River In The Trees to read and review and to Ana Sampson McLaughlin for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Jacqueline O’Mahony is from, Cork, Ireland. She did her BA in Ireland, her MA at the University of Bologna, and her PhD in History as a Fulbright Scholar at Duke University, and at Boston College. She has worked as a writer, editor and stylist at Tatler, Vogue and the Irish Independent.
She lives in Notting Hill with her husband and three young children.