I’m a great fan of fairy tales and folk lore and in The Stolen Child Ms Carey has expertly interwoven both of these with superstition, economic hardship and life on a remote island off the coast of Ireland.
The story is set in 1959-1960 on St Brigid’s Island, named after the saint who lived there with her company of women, and who left behind a magical well whose waters are rumoured to heal and bestow miracle.
Emer lives on the island with her alcoholic husband Patch. Her sister Rose is married to Austin, the better looking and harder working brother of her sister’s regret. Rose is a happy, fecund young woman who produces sets of twins time and again. Emer, however, is shrivelled and bitter and has the ability to impart a sense of hopelessness and misery on all she touches. It is little wonder that she is avoided by the other villagers.She has one child, Niall, on whom she dotes and who seems immune to the curse of her touch. St Brigid’s Island sits uneasily in the middle of the 20th century with the work done and the way of life changed little from the previous century. There is no electricity, no telephone, and bad weather can cut them off from supplies for weeks at a time.
Into this backwater comes an American woman, Brigid, whose mother left the island as a young woman. Her uncle died the year before and she has returned to the island to reclaim the family home and to look for a miracle. She and Emer form an unexpected friendship and Emer learns that she isn’t the only one whose touch can effect people.
This is a marvellous book. Brigid symbolises the modern world intruding into the fairy tale world of the island, and her struggle to be accepted can easily be seen as the struggle the islanders have with the modern world which is being forced upon them. Emer, the main character, isn’t particularly likeable, but as her story emerges I felt great sorrow and empathy for her. Her actions can be selfish and self-serving, but in a life that has given her little it is easy to understand why she acts as she does.
The author has successfully drawn together so many threads, so many influences – fairy tales, folklore, superstition, religion, traditions and mysogeny – to tell a wonderful story peopled by characters you come to care for.
I look forward to reading more from this talented writer.