This is storytelling at its best, something that Patricia Scanlan excels at! Taking readers through 70 years of Irish history and giving a fascinating look at the emancipation of women in the Catholic faith, I thoroughly enjoyed and was intrigued by facts and issues that were dealt with here that I knew nothing about, especially the story of Mary Magdalene. (I’ve since done a bit of Googling!)
The story is character driven, with the main characters being four strong women from the same family: Sisters Brigid and Imelda, Imelda’s daughter Keelin, and Keelin’s daughter Marie-Claire. The reader is taken from past to present, starting with a brief prologue, first in the ’50’s where an obviously young, scared girl, all alone on Christmas Eve, loses her baby; then moving swiftly to the mid-’80’s where another young woman shares her secret pregnancy with the man she loves; and then to 2017 where Marie-Claire discovers that her partner has been unfaithful. She immediately decides to leave Canada and return to Ireland so that she can be with her family and celebrate her Great-Aunt Brigid’s 80th birthday, after which she will decide what her next steps will be. This is a decision that changes the trajectory of her life and of the three women who are most important to her.
Brigid is turning 80 and has just retired from her numerous years of service to the Church. Her most recent role as Reverend Mother surely indicates her dedication and devotion to the Catholic faith that she’s served unfailingly for all these years? However, as we get to know Brigid it’s clear that her entry into service was not the vocation that others may have thought it to be. Her sister Imelda, has understood this all along! However, as time marches on and Brigid achieves the increased admiration that comes with rising seniority within her Order, Imelda becomes increasingly maudlin and bitter … not just about her attitude towards her sister, but towards everyone and everything in her life.
Meanwhile, Brigid herself is starting to feel an intense dissatisfaction with the way in which women are treated by the Church. Despite her respected position, she knows that were she not retiring, she would have had to leave the Church anyway as she knew that she had started to resent so much of what she (and so many others) had been taught about Catholicism and the place of women within it, from the time she was very young. She is envious of her sister who got to stay at home, marry and raise a family, something that circumstances prevented her from doing.
The growing resentments and perceived notions of how each sister has lived her life just continue to bubble under the surface of everything they’ve both done over the years. Things are bound to come to an earth-shattering, ground-breaking halt sooner or later … and they most certainly do: at Brigid’s surprise 80th birthday. Just how that happens, well, you’ll have to read the book to find out, but suffice to say, the impact on Brigid, Imelda, Keelin and Marie-Claire is life-changing, and things will certainly never be the same again.
I adored this book. It’s a story to immerse yourself in. I’m sure that much of the subject matter might well be controversial, but it’s all based on historical fact, so there really is nothing to argue with. For someone like me who finds other religions and their intricacies and backgrounds interesting, it really was an eye-opener. There’s also an esoteric aspect added in which really blended nicely with the whole theme of the female role in Catholocism, what that role is and how it’s evolved and developed over time. There is so much one can say about organised religion and the way it labels and boxes in certain types of people – wars have been, and probably will continue to be – fought over it. There will always be those willing to follow the rigid dogma of their religion of choice. But just as there are those who find it impossible to live without those structures and harsh rules, there are also those who know that in order to make religion (whichever one it may be) more welcoming to those who are on the outside, there will need to be a flexibility and fluidity to the boundaries and fences that confine it, in order to welcome these others into its embrace. The author has displayed this delicately and sensitively and can be commended for it.
Each of the main characters has something endearing about her, even prickly Imelda. As each one’s story unfolds, readers will undoubtedly choose their favourites. I think for me it was a toss-up between Brigid and Imelda. Both of them had difficult choices to make and both made the absolute best out of those choices. But once certain things came to light and they realised that once again, changes would need to be made, neither of them shied away from making those changes even at their advanced ages. These are both amazing, brave women that Patricia Scanlan has created. They’re wonderful!
This is a highly recommended 5-star read. Thank you so much to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours and to publishers Simon & Schuster for inviting me on this tour. Take a look at what other bloggers had to say about A Family Reunion …
Patricia Scanlan lives in Dublin. Her books, all number one bestsellers, have sold worldwide and been translated
into many languages.
Praise for Patricia Scanlan’s writing:
‘Utterly magical and wonderful … warmth and compassion shine through’ Marian Keyes
‘Like being enfolded in a hug from the great writer herself: warm, comforting and full of love’ Cathy Kelly
‘There can be little doubt that Patricia Scanlan is the prolific queen of contemporary Irish popular fiction’ Sunday Times ‘There is a heart-breaking authenticity in her observations’ Irish Times ‘The ultimate comfort read’ Glamour