My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Once more Marina Julia Neary has proven she is an expansive writer, adept at handling a multitude of characters with honesty and imagination, intelligence and wit, engagement but also objectivity. Ms. Neary is ambitious and alert like a spider spinning a sticky web connecting many storylines into a saga spanning nearly forty years replete with twists of fate, theatrical egos, sexual maneuverings, impetuous love affairs, misbegotten off-spring, and impassioned if ambiguous conflicts in the protracted fight for Ireland’s independence that made history for textbooks and neglect.
As large as Ms. Neary’s storytelling is, it remains intimate and nuanced throughout with enjoyable and often insightful descriptions of the characters’ appearance and dress, what and even how they eat, their mannerisms and quirks, the places they haunt, and all kinds of details that make them real, ridiculous, amusing, talented and tragic but never larger than life. Yeats, Maud Gonne, Countess Constance Marckiewicz, James Connolly and any number of legendary individuals are drawn irresistibly conscionable and culpable, but not more so than the novel’s lesser-known figures—such as the feminist, activist, journalist and actress, Helena Molony.
Never Be At Peace pauses and moves along with verbose dialogue and distinct staging, unfolding with various personal and public dramas as though they are equally significant (and insignificant?); at least with the sense that they may be separated in dry facts but not in the human context of historic events. The informational aspect to Ms. Neary’s approach to historical fiction is more about style than didacticism. If it teaches anything, it is that nothing is what it seems—especially not history or heroism, loyalty or love.
Although writing about a similar progression of events as in her previous novel, Martyrs and Traitors, Ms. Neary has skillfully created a newly compelling story that has the reader forgetting they have been there before. Just as in life, so much is in the eye of the beholder. Never Be At Peace, despite its distractions and detours, is Helena Molony’s story: a testament to her courage and stumbling on her personal and civic passage through life, allowing the reader to breathe with relief for her vulnerability, forgive her “mistakes” and hope for a renewal of the vitality of her purpose. Yet, even as the novel represents Helena’s specific journey it highlights the experience of many women born or somehow persuaded to take outstanding roles in society, in relationships and even revolutions.
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