Published by Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: August 12th 2014
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Magical Realism
The Swineys are seven Irish sisters of unknown paternity growing up in a falling-down shack in a small town in Ireland in the late 1800s. They have no electricity, no indoor toilets, and so little food that a piece of bread may suffice for the day. What they do have is hair of extraordinary length in hues from white blond to deepest black. They also have a range of singing voices that gives the eldest sister, Darcy, the idea for their salvation. This is where The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Loveric begins.
The Harristown Sisters follows the girls from their early beginnings and their first show when, thanks to Darcy’s fertile mind, they close by cascading their copious locks onto the stage boards causing a frenzy of delight and jealousy that launches their careers. From that lowly church stage the girls began to be booked in real local theaters, ultimately making their way to a new life in Dublin. From that point on, the sisters rise and rise, from simply showing off their unbound hair—a provocative act for the times—to performing clever skits and songs, written by the middle sister, Manticory. They sign deals to have dolls made with hair just like theirs and to sell hair growth potions.
All of this is grand but the only sister with any power is the indomitable Darcy, who controls her sisters with intimidation and verbal threats. They receive an allowance from her but she keeps all contracts and money locked away and she is the only one to communicate with the increasing number of men with whom she does business. As one of them says, “She makes one long for the tender manners of Attila the Hun.” The other sisters are so cowed there is no thought of leaving the group or returning home, much less simply refusing to do an act that is becoming increasingly salacious as the girls become women.
Can all the hurt girls in the world add up to a single happy one?
Lovric does a marvelous job emulating the rhythm and slang of the Irish language, making The Harristown Sisters raucous reading. What begins as plausible fiction moves through operatic highs and lows and a fair bit of magical realism (Darcy’s physicality begins to mirror her black soul) before the novel winds down. Seven sisters and a career spanning decades is a lot of territory to cover but with Lovric’s imaginative touches, The Harristown Sisters is a lively Irish tale.
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