Books: Delivering hope after ashes of grief
The Lost Garden, Kate Kerrigan Pan Macmillan, €14.99
After the untimely death of her only brother in 2009 and the subsequent birth of her second son, Kate Kerrigan opined that there are only three things worth writing about - birth, death and love.
"Grief teaches you not to be afraid of your feelings," she said. "New life teaches you the same thing."
There is no shortage of feelings in Kerrigan's latest novel. Drawing on the tragedy in 1937 of a crew of Achill Islanders, who perished in a fire while working as potato pickers in Scotland, Kerrigan explores the ramifications of such a disaster on the residents of a fictional Mayo island called Illaunmor.
Set during the Second World War the book opens as 16-year-old Aileen Doherty together with her father, two brothers and several neighbours head to the potato fields of Cleggan in Scotland.
She meets another young islander, Jimmy Walsh - known as Invincible Jim for his daredevil ways - and the pair instantly connect. Against a backdrop of poverty and hardship their blossoming courtship is exquisitely portrayed. But an accidental fire in the men's sleeping quarters claims the lives of ten islanders - among them Aileen's father and brothers.
Having suffered horrific facial burns attempting to save his fellow workers Jimmy resolves to have his looks restored by a London surgeon renowned for his work with the war-wounded. But the scars run deeper than the reach of any scalpel. Meanwhile Aileen returns home to lay her loved ones to rest. Grief-stricken, she sets about restoring a derelict walled garden.
As green shoots tentatively emerge from dormant earth, the island's bereaved womenfolk help Aileen to nurse the garden back to life.
In The Lost Garden Kerrigan's affinity with nature and her ancestral homeland is manifest in every line. A heartfelt and heart-warming tale.