Books: Upstairs downstairs intrigue
Fiction: Return to Tyringham Park, Rosemary McLoughlin, Poolbeg, pbk, 336 pages, €16.99
Rosemary McLoughlin came late to writing. At the age of 70, she published her first book, Tyringham Park, which was hailed as the Irish Downton Abbey. It became an instant bestseller, staying in the Top 10 charts for 12 weeks. Tyringham Park went on to be shortlisted for the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards 2012. It was also nominated in the Irish Independent Newcomer of the Year category.
Return to Tyringham Park is the sequel, a complicated plot, full of upstairs-downstairs intrigue, mystery, murder, suicide, loyal servants, supercilious landed gentry, scheming matriarchs and poor little rich girls, contrasted with grinding poverty.
Beginning in 1940s Ireland and Australia, the storyline revolves around twins separated at birth and the secrets which ruin the lives of their keepers.
Lochlann, a kindly Irish doctor working in a small hospital in the Australian outback, swaps his wife's second stillborn child for an identical twin born to Nell, a poor farmer's wife, who already has seven children. Neither mother is aware of the deception and Lochlann returns to Ireland where the stolen child is destined for a life of privilege as an Anglo-Irish aristocrat and the doctor to one of tortured remorse. Only one other person is aware of the theft but nobody will believe him.
Lochlann's actions produce immediate repercussions, indirectly causing Nell's death, which starts a chain reaction that gradually destroys the happiness of the Australian family, leaving bitterness, jealousy and a desire for revenge in its wake.
Growing up on opposites sides of the world, the twin girls are unaware of each other's existence. Mary Ann is in the clutches of Edwina, her haughty, aristocratic grandmother in Ireland, where a few other secrets are buried.
Meanwhile in Australia, Alison suffers under her resentful older sister Zita who has to give up her dreams of becoming a doctor to take care of the family. When Zita finds out the truth, it is only a matter of time before there is a riveting and dramatic denouement and we are left in the year 1959, wanting more.
The theme of twins separated at birth has been used many times in literature from Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors to The Parent Trap. McLoughlin uses it to great effect in this irresistible vast canvas of a novel, exploring nature versus nurture, with sub-plots and multiple well-rounded characters, so that even the most vile of them evoke a little sympathy.
Compelling from the outset, Return to Tyringham Park is a stand-alone book in its own right. Having read it, though, readers may well be tempted to get their hands on the first one.
McLoughlin has no plans for a further book, at present. Let's hope that she changes her mind.