AUTHOR: JENNIFER JOHNSTON
Details: Dialogues Through Literature title
“That is all there is, really. Not much of a story, I’m afraid.”
Contrary to that quote, taken from the last pages of Shadowstory, there actually is quite a story here. A story about growing up and learning life-lessons along the way. A story about love and loyalty and the ties that bind us to others.
This is Polly’s (also known as baby) story. Born in 1940 when her father’s youngest brother, Sam, is only five years old, Polly lives her life in two places. The main part of her life, but a minor part of the story, takes place in Dublin where she lives with her mother, after her father dies in the Second World War. When her mother remarries and has two further children, Polly feels a bit like an outsider in her own home.
Most of Polly’s holidays are spend in Kildaragh and the house where her father grew up and his parents and youngest brother, Sam, still live.
Polly loves her grandparents, her young uncle Sam and the freedom and peace she experiences while in the west of Ireland.
As Polly grows up this peaceful idyll is slowly disturbed. When Sam decides to disappear from his family’s life without a word to anyone except Polly, he burdens her with a secret and a responsibility that is really too big for someone so young and innocent. With her grandparents desperate to know where Sam may be, it is all Polly can do not to blurb out the little she knows.
At the same time other tensions come to the surface in the house in Kildaragh. Polly has lot of growing up to do in very little time.
On the surface this is, as the quote above suggests, a very simple story. Told in minimal and subdued yet very beautiful and almost poetic language, it is easy for the reader to just flow with the narrative and be seduced by the idyllic surroundings and people in Kildaragh. It is only upon reflection that the reader realises how much is actually contained in this bare story.
This is a book that deals with growing up, first love, death, religion and family loyalty. This is a book that deals with, and is true to, life. It doesn’t offer unrealistic happy endings but it does deliver a very satisfying read.