Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric



Back Cover Blurb

It’s rural Ireland in the second half of the nineteenth century, the age of the Pre-Raphaelites, when Europe burns with a passion for long, flowing locks. So when seven sisters, born into fatherless poverty, grow up with hair cascading down their backs, to their ankles, and beyond, men are not slow to recognize their potential.

Soon, they’re a singing and dancing septet: Irish jigs kicked out in dusty church halls. But it is not their singing or their dancing that fills the seats: it is the torrents of hair they let loose at the end of each show. In an Ireland still hungry and melancholy with the Great Famine, the Swiney hair is a rich offering. And their hair will take dark-hearted Darcy, bickering twins Berenice and Enda, plain Pertilly, gentle Oona, wild Ida, and fearful, flame-haired Manticory—the writer of their on- and off-stage adventures—out of poverty, through the dance halls of Ireland, to the salons of Dublin and the palazzi of Venice. It will bring them suitors and obsessive admirers, it will bring some of them love and each of them loss. For their past trails behind the sisters like the tresses on their heads and their fame and fortune will come at a terrible price.

Rich in period detail, peopled by a bewitching cast of characters, The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters is a tale of exploitation and celebrity, illegitimacy and sibling rivalry, love triangles and financial skullduggery, of death and devilry. And a very great deal of hair.

Review
by

Told through the eyes of Manticory Swiney, one of the seven Swiney sisters, and the one with the vibrant auburn hair, the reader is swept into Harristown, Kildare, at the height of the great Irish famine. Starving and destitute, the sisters live a desperate hand to mouth existence. Their long hair is plagued with lice, and their bodies are emaciated from hunger. Each of the girls possesses a different hair color, from black, to red, to blonde.

Tired of poverty, the eldest is shrewd and strong-willed enough to place her sisters on a stage and demand they perform. Their claim to fame is not their acting, dancing, and singing, rather, it is their courage to break free from the social restrictions regarding bound hair. At the end of each performance, when the sisters turn their backs and let loose a cascade of hair, the audience roars!  Like a feral cat ready to pounce, an antagonist named Eileen O’Reilly does her best to thwart the sisters at every turn.

The novel is richly written and based upon the true life story of the Sutherland sisters in the USA during the 19th century. It is a rags to riches to rags story that I found myself completely absorbed by. Each of the sisters was depicted with plenty of faults and qualities, which added to my interest in this fascinating tale. It is a roller coaster ride that takes the reader to joy, love, despair, and tragedy. This is a wonderful book and I highly recommend it to book clubs as there is an avalanche of material that will lead to many a lively discussion. A lovely book into the odd and unusual lives of these fascinating women. 
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