Be omnivorous, don't just read one kind of book, read everything. - Richard Wagamese

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Review: The Linen Queen by Patricia Falvey

Publisher: Center Street
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Category: Irish Fiction

Patricia Falvey’s follow up novel The Linen Queen is a story of relationships, aspirations and survival. Sheila McGee is young, self-centered and perverse. She dreams of the day she will sail away from Ireland, and head towards a grander lifestyle. Ireland feels like a prison, stuck with a belittling mother, dishonest friends, and a father who couldn’t or wouldn’t stay. Sheila McGee has been working at the mill since she was 14 years old, her capricious mother thought school was a waste of time and pulled her out to contribute to the household. However, according to her mother, it seems that every penny Sheila earned was meant for the household. Each day returning home is an adventure, life with her mother is unpredictable. Now, 18 years old Sheila is finally eligible to compete in the Linen Queen pageant, a substantial monetary prize could finance her escape. When Sheila is not chosen amongst the contestants she knows it has something to do with Mrs. McAteer, the mill owner’s sister. Sheila has a reputation as the town flirt, and Mrs. McAteer detests the girl. When it appears that Sheila is the best viable contestant Sheila is given a chance while Mrs. McAteer loudly disapproves. Sheila unsurprisingly wins the pageant. However, life becomes complicated quickly. The Belfast Blitz brings World War II to the doorstep of the Irish. Fear becomes real and war is no longer far away. Tension is rising in Ireland when support for the British is split amongst the people. Those who want to help with the war effort, and those who believe it is Britain’s war and want nothing to do with it. When American troops are stationed in Queensbrook Sheila frolics with the best of them and hopes to snag on. She hopes and prays that one will take her away. The town boys become frustrated and Sheila’s childhood best friend Gavin tries to warn her against the dangers of leaving Ireland behind. Sheila has much to learn about life, her loyalty is constantly tested and her convictions become questioned by herself. Sheila, the self-centered, presumptuous girl begins to mature and blossom into a grounded, responsible individual. Beauty will only get you so far...

Patricia Falvey’s debut novel The Yellow House blew me away. I kept my eyes glued to the pages until I was finished. The Linen Queen had many similar qualities. Patricia Falvey’s attention to details is astounding, her research is impeccable and her writing is concrete. I really cared about each character, so much so that I really rooted for all of them. I had no favorites, and the flawed characters developed immensely. I would like to point out that I felt the language of The Linen Queen was much simpler than The Yellow House. The dialect of the characters was heavily toned down, where in The Yellow House I felt that the dialect really helped to transport the reader into Ireland. All in all, I think The Linen Queen was a great read. However, if I had to choose between her two books, I would definitely choose The Yellow House. It’s hard to forget a book that you loved so intensely.

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