New Irish author's love stories set a century apart reminiscent of old English classics
Fans of Charlotte Brontë and Daphne du Maurier are in for a treat with this novel by new Irish author, Maria Murphy. It's got all the necessary ingredients of a period piece: a penniless governess, a manor house, a passionate romance and a perhaps a restless ghost. However, there is also a contemporary love story tangled up with the older one. Atmospheric and beautifully written, it is sure to establish Murphy as one to watch amongst our panoply of Irish writers.
Originally from Cork, Murphy now lives in Kildare. Her love of writing began 10 years ago when she joined a local creative writing class, which ultimately led to this novel.
Murphy weaves a web of mystery that stretches over a century and is set in England, Ireland and Italy. In 1880, Martha is left in penury after her father dies. She is very grateful to cousin Helena and her husband, James Pershaw, when they offer her a position as governess to their little daughter Beatrice, in the English village of Mirrow.
The household is presided over by Mother Pershaw, who constantly interferes and criticises her daughter-in-law. Although she is ostensibly one of the family, Martha knows her place, so when she falls in love with the handsome new village doctor, Edward Adams, they decide to keep it a secret until he has saved enough for them to marry.
Despite the warmth of affection between Martha and her cousin, Helena and James are unaware of the romance, they are too busy hatching their own plans. Longing to get away from the overbearing Mother Pershaw, they buy land in Co Monaghan and build a beautiful big house with its own lake, which they call Carissima. Martha is distraught when she learns she is to live in Ireland, so far away from Edward. However, she has no choice but to go and the young couple continue their romance by letter. In 2010, Juliet Holmes is a modern woman, her complete autonomy contrasting starkly with Martha's vulnerability, more than a century earlier. Juliet is a photographer for a wildlife magazine and travels the world working on exciting shoots.
During a break in Florence, she meets Logan Pershaw, the great grandson of Helena and there is instant chemistry. A professor of botanical science, Logan has inherited Carissima but hasn't lived there since he was a child. Now, he plans to settle back in the big house to plant an orchard with heritage seeds and he wants Juliet to accompany him.
As Martha is about to set off for Carissima in the book, Juliet is making the same journey over a century later and we are introduced to the house, the rolling hills, the walled garden, the lake and boathouse through the eyes of Juliet, who is entranced. But something is not right. Logan looks ill and is acting so strange that it puts a strain on the relationship. There is a malevolent presence in the old house but whether it is human or ghostly is unclear.
The rest of Martha's story continues through Helena's diary, which Juliet has found. As Martha's life is unveiled, the title of the book comes into its own. Juliet realises how to solve the mystery. She must somehow bridge the gap of 120 years, thus saving not only her own relationship but also Martha's and probably Logan's life, which brings the plot to a very satisfactory conclusion. From the outset, the book draws you in. Murphy is a natural storyteller, her characters are steeped in empathy, leaving you longing to know more. This one is bound to be a bestseller.
For the Love of Martha
Poolbeg, pbk, €9.99
Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350