Downton Abbey for the Undiscriminating Reader
West of Ireland
Set in 1914 New Brunswick, Canada, West of Ireland tells the story of the wealthy O’Brien family. As a newlywed, Mrs. O’Brien makes a vow to her older sister-in-law, the formidable Sister Mary-Frances, promising a child to the church. As the years pass and all her children perish, save one, Mary-Kate, Mrs. O’Brien tries to forget her pledge. But Sister Mary-Frances doesn’t. When the nun comes to collect her charge, trouble ensues. The O’Briens do everything, short of sacrilege, to keep Mary-Kate out of the clutches of the demanding nun.
“Hoff animates this tale of over-the-top family dysfunction with wit, considerable writing skills (at one point we read “There was enough blue in the sky to cut out a pair of pants”), and deadpan humor (“I’m not ignoring you,” one character tells another, “I’m just pretending you’re not here”). And the very human pathos of the novel is always present but never heavy-handed, with even the most outlandish characters written to a fine shade of believability.
An eccentric, ultimately moving novel of an expat Irish family in turmoil.” –Kirkus Reviews (starred review) –