Title: The Stolen Child
Author: Lisa Carey
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Publication Date: January 12, 2017
Genre: Adult Contemporary, Fantasy
Rating: 3 Stars
Dear fellow Babblers,
A novel written of Irish folklore, The Stolen Child is a novel where desire meets fate and love meets betrayal. The synopsis is what intrigued me as I’ve never read a book on Irish myths so I figured this would be a wonderful read to not only enjoy but also learn something from. There is a lot of magical realism here, much of it quite dark and a bit creepy at times. I won’t say that I didn’t enjoy, but it’s not something I would pick up again or really recommend. The story itself was unique and well written so there’s nothing that should keep me from giving it a full five stars and pushing it in all my buddies’ faces. It just wasn’t my thing; there were quite a few quirks of the story that made me cringe and put the book down more than once.
From the author of the critically acclaimed The Mermaids Singing comes a haunting, luminous novel set on an enchanted island off the west coast of Ireland where magic, faith, and superstition pervade the inhabitants’ lives and tangled relationships—perfect for fans of Eowyn Ivey, Sarah Waters, and Angela Carter.
May 1959. From one side of St. Brigid’s Island, the mountains of Connemara can be glimpsed on the distant mainland; from the other, the Atlantic stretches as far as the eye can see. This remote settlement, without electricity or even a harbor, has scarcely altered since its namesake saint set up a convent of stone huts centuries ago. Those who live there, including sisters Rose and Emer, are hardy and resourceful, dependent on the sea and each other for survival. Despite the island’s natural beauty, it is a place that people move away from, not to—until an outspoken American, also named Brigid, arrives to claim her late uncle’s cottage.
Brigid has come for more than an inheritance. She’s seeking a secret holy well that’s rumored to grant miracles. Emer, as scarred and wary as Rose is friendly and beautiful, has good reason to believe in inexplicable powers. Despite her own strange abilities—or perhaps because of them—Emer fears that she won’t be able to save her young son, Niall, from a growing threat. Yet Brigid has a gift too, even more remarkable than Emer’s. As months pass and Brigid carves out a place on the island and in the sisters’ lives, a complicated web of betrayal, fear, and desire culminates in one shocking night that will change the island, and its inhabitants, forever.
Steeped in Irish history and lore, The Stolen Child is a mesmerizing descent into old world beliefs, and a captivating exploration of desire, myth, motherhood, and love in all its forms.
The Stolen Child takes you off the Irish mainland to a small Irish island where the only ones living there are the one’s whose ancestors were there centuries ago. Life is a routine and superstition trails through the town. The women of the island are strong and capable while the men are scarce and often drunk. The island is run over by stories of faeries who steal children and changelings that possess lives. The inhabitants are entangled in each other’s lives and must rely on each other for survival, even if it means turning against their faith.
Emer is a troubled woman of 23 years. She lost one of her eyes to myriad bee stings when she was young and since then she has always carried a gloomy ambiance that has led to her heart to grow hard and still. Her hands are feared and avoided by the town. Her hands, which look just as cracked and aged from work as every other woman on St. Brigid island can bring despair, hopelessness and regret to those she touches. Her hands can penetrate deep and blacken a person’s soul, leaving them numb with pain and sorrow. Not even her own husband can look her in the eye and instead spends most nights hiding out in bars on the mainland. Emer’s only consolation is her seven year old son, Niall. A strange memory of Niall’s childbirth leaves Emer frightened that faeries will one day invade her life and take her son away from her. As a result, Emer is constantly on the lookout for her son, never leaving him out of her sight.
Emer’s twin sister, Rose is hopeful, lovely constantly plump with children, giving birth to twins every few years. She is married to the most handsome, capable man on the island while Emer is married to his much less competent brother. While all of the islands inhabitants duck from Emer’s way and avoid eye contact with her, Rose keeps Emer close, ignoring all the wicked that she seems to bring on everyone she crosses.
When a pretty yank from Maryland walks onto the island one day, the inhabitants are immediately suspicious, the woman all but friends, the men none but friendly. Brigid is the daughter of a woman who disappeared from the island years ago due to magic the town’s people feared were dangerous. Brigid comes to live in her uncle’s old mansion, setting upon a new life where no one knows her past and she finally discover what she has been looking for: a miracle. According to Irish legend, the island has a magical well. The inhabitants, after many years watching people come and go, taking miracles away with them, decide to keep the well a secret. So when Brigid mentions the well, the inhabitants are quick to change the subject or avoid Brigid altogether. Brigid believes if she can find the well that her mom warned her about back when she was a child, she can find a way to make the impossible possible, and bring new life into the world.
There are several flashbacks to Brigid’s life as a child. She grew up in Maryland on an island to a mother who would stay up nights telling her Irish folk stories. She enjoyed sitting by her father’s side close to the lighthouse and watching him paint. A tragedy leaves her without both parents and to a school that will forever change her life. In this school she meets and befriends different girls. She explores her identity and sexuality, and discovers the healing powers of her hands. She soon becomes a midwife working alongside a doctor. They run away every few years to keep themselves from being identified. But when this doctor dies, Brigid is forced to reface her past, acknowledge her desires and allow herself to be led to the island that same island her mother suffered to escape from so long ago.
Brigid arrives on the St Brigid’s island with a mission. However, as her acquaintance with Emer turns into a friendship and soon a sexual relationship, her grasp and self control becomes fragile. Both Brigid and Emer are stubborn characters, both looking for something very different. They find comfort in each other’s weaknesses but ultimately destroy each other in their own self interests. The tension between Emer and Brigid is vivid and strikingly pronounced through the entire narrative. I found their relationship rather confusing and disturbing as both women are playing with the idea of magic to get what they want, Emer as a means of destruction, Brigid as a means of creating life. However, neither one can get what she wants without hurting the other.
The writing style was interesting, alternating a twist of reality and fantasy, mixed with Irish folklore. The storytelling was quite slow and seemed a bit monotone and dreary to me at times. No actual magic really occurs until about three quarters of the way through. As a result, there’s a lot of dialogue and back and forth between Emer and Brigid’s life. The reader only knows about the faeries from the countless allusions to their threat throughout the text. There is really no physical faerie character present in the book at all. The closest we actually get to this sort of magic is Niall, towards the end of the book. I mean if this book is going to call itself fantasy, I think there should be more actual fantasy – faeries, changelings and magic, than just old myths about them told by the characters who claim to have seen them. I did however appreciate the diversity of the book making explorations of sexuality as well speaking to the theme of abuse and gender equality. I think the author could have been more sensitive to these issues, as many scenes can be seen as quite offensive, making some rather explicit statements instead of remaining neutral. I mean, I’m just confused on this because on the one hand the writing was raw and made me feel so much at once, but on the other hand can I also say it was too raw ? The storytelling really had no filter at tall. The unconscious and most gruesome of the characters thoughts, especially Emer came out strong in the story which I found at once thrilling and frightening at the same time. It’s really this strange push and pull between Brigid and Emer that drives the plot. The reader learns about both protagonists’ troubled past and how each become, at least for a short time, a better version of themselves through each other. I liked this bit of the story, answering grief and sadness with love. However towards the end, the story takes a rather evil twist that led to a rather questionable ending, blessing evil and welcoming death. I feel as though, being the dark story that it is, the narration could have been a bit less mundane and repetitive. There were many flashbacks, descriptions and pauses in the narration with not enough suspense or storytelling in the present.
Overall, The Stolen Child takes readers on a dark, mythical journey far away to a remote island where love is not always the answer and good does not always prevail. Wickedly strange and abnormally intriguing I can see what readers mean when they call it a “page turner” as it was for me. But this was not a simple page turner. It was raw to the core and left me feeling exposed and troubled, not really knowing how to react or if I should even be recommending readers to this book. The Stolen Child brings together universes – magical and real – blurring the pages with emotion and mystical language. A truly conversational and debatable read, definitely not reread material for me.
(Book image credits go to Goodreads)