As a librarian, it’s always been interesting to me to come across readers who are either adamant about reading only fiction and others equally adamant about reading only non-fiction. I read both with equal enjoyment because I know there are many excellent non-fiction books out there written with the ease and grace of the best fiction; and there are fiction books so loaded with fascinating facts that you emerge from the reading experience feeling quite giddy with all the new information!
The most recent book I read, Tipperary by Frank Delaney, falls into the latter category, i.e. a fictional book brimming with information. Tipperary is set in Ireland from the late years of the Victorian period through the Irish war for independence, WWI, and ending in the mid-1920’s.
It is a multi-faceted story told through the narratives of several different people, most especially through the eyes of Charles O’Brien, whose recollections from a very young age up through his sixties mirror the struggle of the Irish for their independence from England after centuries of British occupation.
Charles’ voice emerges through his memoirs as gentle, slightly self mocking, compassionate, and intelligent. His eyes and ears record the seismic shifts of his country; his heart is moved to a lifelong, seemingly hopeless love for a woman half his age; his mind ponders the meaning of every single encounter he has ever had among the wealthy and cultured or the poor and uneducated Irish and Anglo-Irish. While Charles might not inspire love in April Burke, the proud Englishwoman who spurns his early advances, his kindness and compassion earn him the passionate devotion of his mother and younger brother Euclid, as well as the companionship of Joseph Harney who saves Charles’ life after a mysterious murderous attack and sticks close to him through all the vicissitudes of love, rejection, war, and revenge.
In addition to Charles’ memoirs, the story of Tipperary is told through the voice of a retired teacher who presents Charles’ writings to the reader and often comments upon them, enriching the text with information about Irish history and the strained relations between the Irish and the English. Rounding off the tale are the diaries of Charles’ mother, commenting on her son’s many experiences and the recollections of Harney who was deeply involved in the Irish fight for independence.
Part history, part romance, part mystery and wholly absorbing, Tipperary is a novel to sink your teeth into and expect a very rich feast. I listened to the book as narrated by its author Frank Delaney. If you can encounter the book this way, you are in for a special treat, since Delaney in addition to being a novelist is a former BBC broadcaster. His rendering of various Irish voices is a delight. Yet I’m certain you will find the printed book every bit as engrossing and delightful, even without his voice in your ear!