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The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey & Read-a-Long

The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey, which is her first novel, is an incredible, sweeping novel set in Ireland during the beginning of the nation’s struggle for freedom from Britain, the rise of the IRA, and WWI.  Eileen O’Neill, our heroine, comes from a long line of warriors or so her Da tells her, and she revels in his folklore and his stories about how the O’Neills stole back the yellow house from the Sheridans who had once stole it from them.  The dynamics of the family often mirror the political situation in Ireland as her father is struck down and her mother looses her moorings and drifts.  Eileen’s brother Frank becomes even more angry and distant, mirroring the heightened angst over Ireland’s freedom and the dedication of its people to the Cause.

“Secrets are the cancer of families.  Like tumors, they grow ever larger, and if they are not removed, they suffocate the mind and spirit and spawn madness.  As long as they remain, they cast a shadow on every truth that is uttered, clouding it, constricting it, distorting it.  Secrets hurt the secret keeper as much as the poor souls from whom the secret is kept.  And even once the secret is out, its shadow echoes into the future, the remnants of its memory leaving us vigilant and fearful.”  (Page 241)

A young woman with a dreamer for a father and a mother keeping secrets is bound to get into trouble, and Eileen is no different, especially since she’s such a headstrong and stubborn girl to begin with.  Her family falls apart when times get financially troubling for them and their father, who is a poor farmer, is forced to mortgage their home.  Their mother sets about turning things back and begging for her own family’s forgiveness and pity to save her own family.  As the dominoes begin to fall heavily and quickly around the O’Neill family, some members fall apart, some rise up and hold onto their anger and resentments, and others hold onto their dreams.

“As we strolled along the promenade, I looked down at the gold wedding band on my left hand.  It felt heavy and strange, as if this new identity were crushing me.  I tried to smile.”  (Page 138)

Eileen meets James and is swept away by his passion for a free Ireland and a comeuppance for the Protestants who continue to save all of the jobs for their own kind.  Readers will be swept away by Eileen’s passion and dreams as she struggles against forces beyond her control and even against her husband, whose dreams are no longer her own.  WWI intervenes in the struggle for independence and forces many of the characters to reassess their priorities, including Eileen’s friend, Owen Sheridan, and even Eileen herself as she begins working with the injured soldiers at the hospital.

Reuniting the O’Neill family becomes a driving force in the novel, and Falvey’s prose is at once haunting and steeped in its own lore.  Her characters are flawed, frustrating, and forgivable, but the gem here is the symbolism and the history she weaves into Eileen’s story from the yellow house and the mountain Slieve Mullion to Ireland’s historic struggle for independence.  The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey is excellent.  It will sweep readers off their feet, whisking them off to the Irish countryside, into the workhouse slums, and back again.  Fast-paced, deep, heartbreaking, and romantic — Falvey is a writer to watch light up the shelves with her prose.

Another winner for 2012.

***Here are the final week’s Ireland Reading Challenge read-a-long questions and answers.  These may contain spoilers, so if you don’t want to read them, skip to the giveaway!***

Check out part one, two, and three of the discussions.

Were you as angry as I was when Eileen slept with James while pregnant with Owen’s baby, in order to pass the baby off as his?

I expected it as a “good” Catholic girl in a bind and already plagued by talk of the affair at the mill, etc.  Plus, she’s impetuous and does things without thinking about the consequences until later.

Was Owen’s reaction to that justified, in your opinion?

Yes.

Did you understand why Eileen was so torn about reporting what she knew about James’ plans for the mill?

Yes, but I’m glad she did.  James is her husband, though that matters little, but it does matter that he’s the father of her daughter and no mother wants to have to explain to their child why their da is in jail or dead.

What about her hesitancy to marry Owen?

I agree that she should wait and take some time to sort through those events that hit her boom, boom, boom…from the injury of her brother, seeing Billy killed, and finally reuniting with her sister, plus informing on her husband and nearly shooting James, that’s a lot for a person to process.  I think it showed maturity that she knew she needed more time to think about things and sort it all out, rather than her usual rash decisions that ruled her life.

What did you think of how things ended for the following characters: Frankie, Lizzie, Terrence, Fergus, and, of course, James?

I’m glad that Lizzie and Eileen were reunited and that her return even seemed to perk up their mother.  Terrence must still be living with a lot of guilt, and while I don’t like that Frankie was injured so badly, I think returning him to a happy child is a good ending for him.  He was far to angry, and its tough to come back from that even if you have an epiphany.  Fergus….ah, Fergus…not sure what to say about him.  I like that he was taking matters into his own hands, but I don’t like that he put Eileen in the position she was in.  James got his just desserts.

Were you satisfied with the way things ended for Eileen’s mom?

Yes and no.  Maybe there is hope for her yet.

And, lastly, were you happy with how things ended for Eileen?

Eileen needs to now learn how to be happy and not wallow in self-pity and all of that.  She deserved her happy ending.

About the Author:

Patricia Falvey was born in Newry, County Down, Northern Ireland. She was raised in Northern Ireland and England before immigrating to the U.S. at the age of twenty. She currently divides her time between Dallas, Texas and Northern Ireland.

 

 

This is my 2nd book for the 2012 Ireland Reading Challenge.

 

 

This is my 9th book for the WWI Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

This is my 21st book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

The Yellow House Read-a-Long, Part 3

As part of the 2012 Ireland Reading Challenge, we’re reading The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey.  For the first week, we read pages 1-90, and the second week was for part 2, pages 91-164.

Today, we’re discussing part three, which is for pages 165-238.  This week, we’re asked to talk about the section and ask our own questions.

Please be aware that this discussion could contain spoilers.

 These are some questions I had about this section:

Do you think Owen has a right to ask Eileen for something in return for his kindness and do you think he goes too far asking her to give up her role in the Troubles and commit to volunteer work?

I think its about time Owen sought some reciprocation for all of his generosity and given that all he asks is for her to stop engaging in the violence of the civil disobedience and to help out at the hospital, it’s not a lot to ask.  I think the volunteer work will go a long way to assuaging her guilt and anger, and maybe even begin to open her eyes to the troubles before her people and country.  It also is likely to open her eyes to the suffering of others and that she hasn’t cornered the market on that suffering.

What do you think Owen’s frankness with Eileen about her behavior say about their relationship?

I think that Owen’s ability to be frank with Eileen demonstrates his great regard for her, and dare I say, love.  She’s equally frank, if not harsh, with him, which illustrates the deeper emotional connection that they have, even though neither seems to want to admit it.

Do you think Owen is right that confronting the past can help us heal? Do you think it will help Eileen?  Her family?

I do agree to an extent that revisiting the past and making sense out of it and what it has brought to your life can be cathartic, and in this case, visiting the hospital where her sister is extricated from the family and quarantined is more helpful than Eileen or Owen could have imagined.  I’m still not sure that what transpires in this section will ultimately achieve Eileen’s original dream of reuniting her family at the Yellow House, but it may heal them a bit.

Anna wants to know:

Do you think Frank is justified in abandoning his family and in the treatment of his sister?

No.  I don’t think Frank is justified in abandoning his family and in the treatment of his sister, although I understand that he was disillusioned because he learned that the father he has known all is his life is not his biological father.  On the other hand, he was a very angry man to begin with, which fueled his disappointment and drive to show everyone he could be successful.  I’m particularly angry with Frank in how he tells his sister what to do with regard to Owen and basically forbids her to see him again because it is not good for his business (working both sides of the Cause).  He has absolutely no right to do that; he is not her father and has never been there for her, so how can he expect to have a say in her life — Och, because he’s arrogant, even more so now that he is the owner of the grandfather’s estate.

Do you think finding Lizzie will help Eileen’s mom to heal?

I’m not sure that finding Lizzie will help Eileen’s mom, but anything is possible.  Will finding Lizzie help Eileen?  I think so.  I think Eileen has been looking for some closure and learning that her sister is alive is one way to do that, and she’s even getting some kind of closure with Frank with him talking to her — though he’s still an a**.

What do you think about Owen buying the Yellow House?

I think Owen did it for reasons that he was even unaware of.  Although I think he’s know he’s liked Eileen, I’m not sure he initially bought it for her but for what he says to bring his wife home.  He seems dedicated to his family and keeping them close and the war has changed him in that way, making every moment precious.  I think he now has a better sense of what family should be and wants to capture that.  And I think at the heart of that is Eileen and her family before all the bad things began happening to her — when they were happy in the yellow house and making music.

That’s all for this week.  We’ll be finishing up the book for next week.  Stay tuned.

The Yellow House Read-a-Long, Part 2

As part of the 2012 Ireland Reading Challenge, we’re reading The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey.  For the first week, we read pages 1-90.  I’m going to answer the read-a-long questions here for part 2, which is pages 91-164.

Please be aware that the answers to these questions could contain spoilers.

Were you surprised by the turn the romantic storyline took?

No!  I knew the minute Eileen said that she was determined to hate him that they would end up in some capacity.  With a passionate, fiery woman like Eileen, it is inevitable that her passions would lead her to a rebellious man like James.  However, her path to Owen has not ended with her marriage to James, as I suspect the life of a rebel and champion of a united Ireland under Home Rule is likely to be killed or jailed.

What do you think of James? Is his treatment of his family – all in the name of the cause – justified?

James is a man set in his own ways and his own idea of how family is expected to act.  Eileen does not fit into that mold, and though I feel for her, she should have known what marriage to him would have been like given his relationship with his mother.  More than once his mother placed the needs of James above everyone else in the family — he was given a room in the house while Fergus was relegated to the shed and the other two siblings were forced to work in the mill to pay for James’ seminary education, which he clearly abandoned.  James has always been put first, and he acts accordingly.  He has no other expectations of his wife.  While he was drawn to Eileen’s passion for the cause, he also believes that his ideas and needs are superior to everyone else’s.   Is his treatment of his family justifiable in the name of the cause? To him, it is!  To the rest of us and Eileen, it is not.  Given Eileen’s background and her father’s devotion to the family in spite of his inability to farm, she expects more from her husband than his dedication to the cause — she expects him to provide for and protect them.  But she fails to see who James really is.

What do you think of Eileen’s reaction to James’ final betrayal – the emptying of her savings account?

I think the reaction is typical of her character, but I also would have expected more of her by this point.  In a way, her reaction is still that of a girl who does not know how to react to betrayal.  She needed to calmly accept the news and craft a better plan.  While I think she’s passionate and has a tendency to react as her mother does, which could lead to a similar fate, she is likely stronger than her mother if she draws on that O’Neill warrior inside.

How do you think the author is handling the intricacies of the political situation?

I really like how the reader learns about the political situation as Eileen learns of it and becomes more involved in the movement.  I like that she also provides the translation of terms like Sinn Fein, which I didn’t know about before.  I do like how there is not the one-sided against the British feeling to the story.  I think Falvey is doing well here.

Other thoughts:

I really enjoy Falvey’s writing style and the way that she weaves in the political and historical aspects, but keeps it grounded in Eileen’s personal story.  Yellow continues to play a significant role here in the story, and I’m still pondering what it means…though at this point I’m leaning toward the notion of “hope.”

For next week’s discussion we’ll be reading through page 238, which includes these sections: “Truce, 1920-1921? and “Passion, 1921.”

The Yellow House Read-a-Long, Part 1

As part of the 2012 Ireland Reading Challenge, we’re reading The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey.  For the first week, we read pages 1-90.  I’m going to answer the read-a-long questions here.  Please be aware that the answers could have spoilers in them.

1.  What do you think of the writing?

Falvey’s writing is very in step with other Irish writers I’ve read in the past where the diction and the style resembles the time period and the very mythical Irish culture.  I’m enjoying the detail and the description a great deal; it gives me a sense that I am there in the valley below Slieve Mullion, the mountain looking down on the O’Neill house.

I had a hard time stopping after the second section in the book when I hit page 90.

2.  What do you think of Eileen’s parents?

Eileen’s parents have secrets, and these secrets are well hidden from the children, as to be expected during that time.  Parents did not openly talk about their courtships or previous relationships with their lovers and/or parents to their children.  I’m surprised at how lively Eileen’s mother talked of the past once it was revealed where their grandfather lived.  It seemed a bit incongruous to me that she would suddenly want to reminisce with her kids about a past she had kept so hidden and one that was fraught with despair and heartache.  I really was disappointed that such a strong woman was unable to bounce back after tragedy to help her other children!  It saddened me to think that she would withdraw so much, and after the death of the father, she became an unrecognizable woman…that seemed a bit extreme to me.

Eileen’s father is a typical dreamer, which has been seen in other Irish novels, but what’s intriguing here is that he is not a drunkard and does not make foolish monetary decisions that leave his family out in the cold for the most part.  He does make a go of farming, though eh fails miserably at it, but rather than gamble away the future, he takes the reasonable road and sells a portion of the land…at least until he takes out a mortgage on the house.

3.  It seems that the book is heading in a romantic direction when it comes to Eileen and Owen Sheridan. What do you think of this potential romance?

Eileen and Owen have a sort of forbidden love, which can be tempting, but for now it seems that Eileen is being level-headed…however, there also is the wild card of James, whom she is determined to hate.  But will she really, and will he really become a priest?  That remains to be seen.  It also seems to be a similar set up going on here that may mirror her mother’s past when she became pregnant with Frank and instead of marrying his father, she marries Eileen’s dad.

4.  As we closed the second section, the world is on the brink of the First World War, and Ireland is being torn apart by the fight for Home Rule. Have you learned anything about Ireland or the world at this time period that was new to you?

I finally understand the difference between the Unionists and the Nationalists!  These were mentioned in A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry (my review), but it was so confusing given the main character, Willie had little knowledge of politics related to WWI or the Irish struggle for Home Rule.  I hope there is more of the politics behind the wars in this one.  It’s fascinating to me, though I don’t want the book to lose its pace or its dynamism.

***Some Other Observations***

I really love how Falvey has used nature here to demonstrate the struggles of the Irish, and her descriptions of the Music Men are fantastic at demonstrating the power of music and how it became a safe heaven for many Irish.  I’m also getting curious about the significance of yellow here; it seems to be recurring in the house paint, Eileen’s dress, and other events.  I cannot wait to see how that ties into the overall novel.

For next week, we’ll be reading pages 91-164 or sections “War, 1914-1918″ and “Insurrection, 1919-1920.”