Away by Jane Urquhart

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Word PressJane Urquhart did the same in this book as she did in The Stone Carvers, which was to juxtapose two very different themes and try to make them into one story.  Again, I don’t think it really worked.  This book was supposed to be about the experiences of Irish immigrants in Canada, and some sort of way of enabling Irish-Canadians to discover their heritage; but all it really was was the reinforcement of two rather unhelpful stereotypes.

The first was the stereotype of the fey (not that she ever actually used the word “fey”, come to think about it) red-haired (why are fey people always depicted as having red hair?) Irish girl in a remote part of the countryside.  That’s where the title “Away” came from – the lady in question, when she started acting strangely after coming across a drowned sailor, was apparently literally away with the fairies, and all her family and friends apparently believed this.  It’s the romantic-ish idea that some people, although most of them in late Victorian and Edwardian times rather than in the 21st century, had of Ireland, and indeed the Scottish Highlands and some other parts of the British Isles, as being full of myths and legends and the wee folk and people who believed in it all.  Writing a book about that sort of thing can work, but not when set alongside the harsh reality of people emigrating to Canada because of the Potato Famine.

The second was the stereotype of the feckless Irish male sitting around in the pub all day, doing very little work, ranting and raving about the injustices done to Ireland by England, and then getting involved in violence at a political meeting.  It’s not exactly a positive stereotype, and I was quite surprised that someone with Irish ancestry would have chosen to use it.  However, it then turned out that Mr Feckless Ranter was actually a spy, who was just pretending to be like that in order to spy on the Canadian Fenians – in between seducing the daughter of Mrs Fey Away With The Fairies, who then went away with the fairies herself.  However, he then did a bunk, and the book then ended rather abruptly.

Somewhere in the background were the husband and son of Mrs Fey Away With The Fairies, the father and brother of Miss Fey Away With The Fairies.  The former tried to educate children in poverty-stricken rural Ireland, before making a new life for himself in Canada.  The latter worked hard, married a hard-working woman, had children, and generally fulfilled the much happier image of an immigrant settling into a new country and making good there.  That’s a story that’s been told many times before, but it would still have made a much better story of Irish immigration to Canada, and of Ireland generally, than being away with the fairies or getting drunk in the pub.  Very odd choice of storylines.

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