Flanagan, Thomas. Year of the French. Henry Holt & Company, 1979.
1798. Ireland. It all starts when a school teacher is asked to write a letter to a landlord. Arthur Vincent Broome offers a narrative of the events that followed. Malcolm Elliot writes a memoir. Sean MacKenna shares a diary. Characters from every angle share a voice in the telling. Thus begins a long and tumultuous history of Ireland, starting with the Rebellion of 1798. As with any war, the Rebellion is violent tide that sweeps up anyone in its path, be they Protestant, Catholic, Papist, landowner, landless, landlord, farmer, soldier, blacksmith, teacher, poet, peasant, gentry, French, English, Irish, man, woman, or child. Narratives come from all of the above and readers are cautioned to read carefully, to concentrate on the voices. Flanagan puts you into the plot so well that at any given moment you are either on the side of the Protestants or Catholics. Either the French or the English welcomed you into their camps. Year of the French describes war maneuvers as well as personal rifts between families, struggles in marriages and livelihoods.
As an aside, I felt like Year of the French was half written in a foreign language. Words like boreen, kernes and omadhaun kept me diving into Google for answers.
Line I liked, “I have never broken the law when sober” (p 92). Amen to that. Here’s another from the diary of Sean MacKenna, “There are some pf these fellows who don’t know that the world is round, and for all they knew, they were being marched off to the edge of it” (p 260).
Confessional: I always keep a running biography list of characters whenever I see there are too many to keep track of. For example, Citizen Wolfe Tone is the founder of the Society of United Irishmen. Donal Hennessey has a handsome wife and is the father of two sons. Malachi Duggan is a unicorn in Ireland because he doesn’t drink. Matthew Quigley owns the tavern where Duggan doesn’t take drink.
Orbital information: I love it when one part of my life informs another. In Year of the French Flanagan writes the words “the parting glass.” If I wasn’t listening to an Irishman’s music, I wouldn’t know “The Parting Glass” is a funeral song (and a very beautiful one at that).
Book trivia: Year of the French is book one in Flanagan’s trilogy about the history of Ireland. I am reading all three.
Author fact: Amherst College holds Professor Flanagan’s papers. Too cool.
Nancy said: Pearl called Year of the French magnificent.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Historical Fiction Around the World” (p 113).