Set in the small Irish country town of Cloonoila the opening of the novel focuses on a new arrival to the town. A man claiming to be a healer has recently arrived and is causing a stir. The book flits between various townspeople and their different reactions and interactions with this new arrival. The small town is intrigued by the new figure and the medicines and healing philosophy he has brought with him. None more so that Fidelma who becomes infatuated with the man. When the man’s past finally catches up with him it has devastating consequences on all those who have come in contact with him. Especially Fidelma.
Edna O’Brien’s class as a writer shines through every word. The opening stories of the novel are reminiscent of Olive Kitteridge in the way their chronology and connection is at first not easily determined. The innocence of the townspeople leaches through to the reader and when the grim reality of who the stranger is revealed the repercussions are all the more shocking. The second half of the novel changes tack ever so skillfully and focuses on Fidelma and the fallout she must try to live with and live through.
This is a novel of love and evil; fairy tale and stark reality. It is confronting and challenging yet intensely readable and thoughtful. This is writing truly at its best, full of confidence and subtly that not only sucks you in as a reader but sets you up brilliantly for some expertly done changes of pace and tone. The perfect start to my 2016 reading.