The Largest Baby in Ireland After The Famine by Anne Barnett

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The Largest Baby in Ireland After The Famine by Anne Barnett

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A story of inter-religious love in rural Ulster around World War One. Clear-eyed and absorbing, this story mixes historical and romantic fiction to great effect.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 300 Date: September 2015
Publisher: Mereo Books
ISBN: 978-1861515261

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She was all colour and sway, and as far away as imaginable from the local women. Pale, pale skin and strong dark auburn hair falling free to large wide hips. She wore a purple shawl. That night Felix, a bachelor, aged 43, living in the house he was born in, dreamt of purple. Purple in the shape of a woman.

And just like that, things change. I love this passage. It shows how strong the human pull is. Even when men and women are surrounded by great events - war, political upheaval, famine, depression - individual human desires can change the picture in an instant.

The Largest Baby in Ireland After the Famine is set in rural Ulster around the time of World War One. With Home Rule, partition and independence, it's a turning point in Irish history. Anne Barnett describes the life here in intimate terms and from every perspective. Landscape plays an enormous part, as do the rhythms of daily rural life and small town sensibilities. Religious differences are woven into all of this. As is the impact of patriarchy.

Felix is stuck in his ways. Protestant and a bachelor, he is entirely unprepared for the impact a vivid and vital woman could have on his life. But he's powerless to resist the strength of his feelings. Sarah-Ann is a Catholic. She's experienced and has already raised a family. But she too feels the pull of an inevitable attraction. Their relationship will unsettle a community very settled in its Protestant values and will prove the trigger for all kinds of unexpected events.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Largest Baby in Ireland After the Famine. It's clear-eyed and immersive and, at times, truly lyrical. Which is more important: a love story or the subtle compacts in a settled community? Are religious rivalries too much to overcome? This story of a woman confronting her patriarchal environment and a man confronting his own settled prejudices is full of contradictions. But it's also full of a sympathetic understanding of all its competing elements.

I found it rich and full of flavour and, although it is not always a comfortable read, I also found it tremendously satisfying. The Largest Baby in Ireland After the Famine combines romantic and historical fiction to great effect and it's good to see it given a reissue almost fifteen years after it was first written. This story shouldn't be out of print.

You might also enjoy Nora Webster by Colm Toibin or An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor.

You can read more about Anne Barnett here.

Buy The Largest Baby in Ireland After The Famine by Anne Barnett at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Largest Baby in Ireland After The Famine by Anne Barnett at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Largest Baby in Ireland After The Famine by Anne Barnett at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Largest Baby in Ireland After The Famine by Anne Barnett at Amazon.com.


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