Tied-up and a bit let down,
This review is from: The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
In her latest book Michelle Lovric finds a fascinating suitable subject that proves to be worthy of the talents of the author of The Book of Human Skin. The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters is another wonderful, imaginative and often sensual exploration of human experience from an unusual perspective, and this time it's all "tied-up" in hair. After the huge scope and ambition of The Book of Human Skin however, it's possible that one might also be just a little "let down" by all the hair-raising business and domestic matters in the author's latest book.
There's not much chance however of the reader being anything but dazzled by the brilliance and wit of the creation of the seven Swiney sisters, or as they become known by their stage-name, the Swiney Godivas. Famed for the extraordinary length and lustre of their hair (Lovric every bit as creative in her descriptions of the ladies' hair as she was about the tint, texture and tone of skin in her last book), the sisters achieve great fame for their songs, plays and routines (scripted by flame-haired narrator Manticory) that show off their most alluring attributes to "foxy" men and admiring ladies. Their fame attracts business proposals that make them very rich indeed, but their impoverished background and uncertain parentage comes back to haunt them, with internal strife and rivalry between the sisters exacerbated by love interests who like to "butter their bap on both sides".
What is marvellous about the author's writing here is how well she adopts and creatively exploits situation in post-famine rural Ireland, bringing in all kind of cultural and social references (much as she did with Venice in her previous novel), as well as delighting with a "generosity of syllables" in the rich language of insults and "ballyragging" that are traded not just between the sisters but in a much more authentically vicious and violent manner between the eldest sister Darcy and her nemesis Eileen O'Reilly, the butcher's daughter. Darcy however has a manner that ensures that she finds plenty of other enemies as targets for her invective as the girls move to Dublin, Venice (inevitably!) and on to greater things.
Lovric again manages to bring in several other relevant themes that elevate the book, to much more than just a period historical fiction, some of it relating to the exploitation of women and the part they play themselves in their own downfall, to the shady nature of business practices and the dangers of attracting the attention of the press ("Newsprint is black for a reason"). Primarily however the book is concerned with female issues and the domestic arrangements between the seven sisters and their lovers, which would be tedious at this length were it not for the richness of Lovric's descriptions and the imaginativeness of the situations. I found it a little over drawn-out this time, but Lovric is a hugely talented writer, clearly capable of turning her hand to any subject and making it truly magical.