‘Spring 1915, Dublin. Katie Crilly- a young woman trying to find her place in a restrictive society- gets the news she dreaded: her beloved twin brother, Liam, has been killed on the Western Front.
A year later, when Dublin is suddenly engulfed by the violence of the Easter Rising, Katie finds herself torn between her loyalty to her brother, her instinctive Irish patriotism, and her love for her city and its people. Taking refuge in the home of friends, she meets Hubie Wilson, a comrade of Liam’s from the Front. There unfolds a remarkable encounter between two young people, both wounded and both trying to imagine a new life.’
Set against the backdrop of the First World War and the 1916 Irish Easter Rising, ‘Fallen‘ is a powerful love story that centres on a Dublin girl called Katie as she struggles through the events of the time. The context is definitely the novels strongpoint. This is a fascinating period of Irish history and one that I fear many people outside of Ireland know little about. The great thing about the novel is that it manages to deal with many of the sociopolitical issues surrounding the Rising without seeking to become an historic account of it. The views that the characters wrestle with in the book are complex but are dealt with in such a clear and sympathetic tone that it feels like far more of a balanced argument than the one sided picture it could have painted. The author has ensured that the novel maintains an authentic and open discussion on Irish independence and the relationship between that and the Irish soldiers who fought under the Empire’s colours in France.
Take ‘Fallen‘ out of Dublin and it’s not unlike other books such as ‘Testament of Youth’ by Vera Brittain which is the memoir of a VAD nurse who loses a brother and a lover to the war. The character of Katie is very similar Vera, she is a smart young woman striving towards her own independent life, who wants to go to university and continue to learn, has a strong relationship with her brother and even volunteers to help the injured as Vera does. Katie’s resilience in the face of her grief and the pressure put upon her from society and, most importantly, her parents, family and friends makes her an interesting and likeable character which is useful in such a novel. This isn’t just another period romance set during wartime but instead is a novel that deals with real issues of the time; it doesn’t ignore the rebellion for the sake of the war or vice versa, but instead looks at a more complete picture.
The novels only shortcoming is that it is only a short novel, only 276 pages long. It feels as though the Rising is really only a backdrop to Katie’s story and yet it is used as the main climax of the novel. This makes it seem as though very little actually happens. This feeling is furthered by the open ending which creates the effect that the novel is not properly finished. There seems to be a lot more that the book could say, for instance does Con ever get the chance to explain his behaviour? How do Katie’s parents take the news of Matt’s choice? Is Katie’s father safe? The futures of the characters are left so unfinished but there aren’t any problems that a sequel would not serve to solve.
To be perfectly honest, I did love the book. In fact, it’s the first book in years I’ve read all in one day, in one sitting. The historical context is captivating, the characters interesting and the overall storyline beautiful. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read and, although I was left with a lot of questions, it wasn’t in an unpleasant way. This is definitely an author I need to read more from and a time period I need to research. I’ve been intrigued by the Easter Rising since my trip to Dublin this Easter where they were remembering the events at the centenary and I definitely think this book was a good place to ease myself into the history from. Basically, I loved it and it’s a good, easy read that doesn’t ask too much from you and yet says so much itself.