Wednesday 21 March 2018

Review: Fiction: Tyringham Park by Rosemary McLoughlin

Poolbeg, €15.99, pbk, 400 pages
Available with free P&P on or by calling 091 709350

It's a shame that Rosemary McLoughlin waited until her 70th year before publishing her first novel, Tyringham Park: she is a consummate storyteller and this is a riveting yarn, an Irish Downton Abbey.

Set in the quarter century or so between 1917 and 1943, it careers from a Big House in Co Cork, the eponymous Tyringham Park, to Australia and back to Dublin before ending with a great Gothic climax in Tyringham. (The author grew up in New South Wales but has lived in Ireland for 40 years.)

The novel opens with the disappearance of Victoria, the toddler daughter of Edwina, Lady Blackshaw. The loss devastates nine-year-old Charlotte, Victoria's elder sister.

Their bitter, jealous mother neglects Charlotte, and her 'carer', Nurse Dixon, violently abuses her. The incident leaves Charlotte mute, and thereafter she suffers intermittent spells of crippling depression.

Not that she's faultless: she grapples with a filthy temper, and is not above manipulating herself into marriage, having failed to attract a husband when a debutante.

At the advanced age of 25 she snares a reluctant young doctor, Lochlann Carmody by using the oldest trick in the book, getting pregnant. Lady Blackshaw rapidly dispatches the couple to Australia with instructions not to announce the birth of their child until exactly a year after their marriage.

Charlotte's emotional traumas are played out with the help of a colourful upstairs-downstairs cast. 'Downstairs' teems with characters, among them the criminally abusive and self-deluding Nurse Dixon; the heart-throb horse-trainer Manus and the warm-hearted housekeeper Miss East.

Upstairs, huntin', shootin' and fornicating channel the gentry's energies -- but there's a poignant note running through the novel. It relates to the heartache and frustrations of women tutored in self-hatred; and the sins of emotionally stunted mothers revisited upon their children.

There's also some sympathy for men who seek action and excitement in war, while at home they take refuge in the bottle.

McLoughlin has an eye for the telling period details that cumulatively evoke a lost world. A dentist extracts the lower orders' healthy teeth; the pram that Victoria's baby must use because of the Blackshaws' aristocratic meanness is the one from which her sister disappeared a generation earlier; a lorry becomes a makeshift ambulance when a riding accident leaves Edwina seriously injured.

McLoughlin marshals the gothic suspense of Daphne Du Maurier, and the good and bad behaviour of Molly Keane's country squires and heartless mothers.

Tyringham Park delivers grand passion, secret intra-class trysts, kidnap and violent deaths within a gripping romance.

Mary Shine Thompson

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