An Irish Village

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

New historical novel about a family from Harristown, Co Kildare.

Well-known author of historical fiction Michelle Lovric has just published The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters, a novel set in the nineteenth century, and, in its first section, is located squarely in the east Kildare-west Wicklow region.
Michelle Lovric’s first novel, Carnevale, is the story of the painter Cecilia Cornaro, described by The Times as the possessor of ‘the most covetable life’ in fiction in 2001.
This was followed in 2004 by The Floating Book, in which a chorus of characters relates the perilous beginning of the print industry in Venice. The book explores the translation of raw emotion into saleable merchandise from the points of view of poets, editors, publishers – and their lovers. A London Arts award winner, The Floating Book was also selected as a WH Smith ‘Read of the Week’.
The Remedy, a literary murder-mystery set against the background of the quack medicine industry in the eighteenth century, was long-listed for the 2005 Orange Prize for Fiction, and The Book of Human Skin, published in 2010 by Bloomsbury in the UK and by Penguin in Canada, was featured on Channel 4’s TV Book Club in August 2011.
Like her previous novels, the author has meticulously researched the background to The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters. The sisters are members of the Swiney family, tenants on the Harristown estate. These hirsute sisters are unusual and begin to make a living by staging shows, which always end with them literally letting their hair down in public. The Sutherland sisters of New York actually did have such a show, and the author has modelled the Swiney story on their performances. The Swineys, led by eldest sister Darcy, encounter some hair-raising situations, but eventually outgrow Harristown and move to Dublin and, ultimately, to Venice. Success comes at a price though, and a series of events leads to the Swineys losing their fortune and living in reduced circumstances, leaving Darcy on the horns of a dilemma. However, more unexpected events change their situation once again… but I can’t give the plot away! Suffice it to say that I have no hesitation in recommending this excellent and imaginative book as a fantastic read! C. L.