The following two books are both titles I found in Sarah L. Johnson's guide to historical fiction.
"The Fox’s Walk" by Annabel Davis-Goff is the tale of a young girl living in the south of Ireland with her Anglo-Irish grandmother and elderly aunt in the months leading up to the 1916 Easter Rising. Everything is seen and told from her viewpoint as she tries to make sense of events inside and outside of her restricted social circle. Her knowledge — and her growing recognition of her privledged life — is based on snatches of overheard conversations, unexplained adult actions and all the unspoken superstitions and rituals of Anglo-Irish behavior. Reminds me a bit of Mary McCarthy’s “Memories of a Catholic Girlhood” in the sense of Davis-Goff commenting as an adult on her childhood experiences.
The author creates an almost mesmerizing sense of time and place in her slow unfolding of the story amidst the slow unraveling of the familiar world brought on by Irish politics and WWI. An unexpectedly shocking and violent ending that I should perhaps have seen coming; but one that still fits the story. My only criticism would be that some of the interwoven stories of the historical players in the revolutionary events made for confusion at times. And Davis-Goff often structures her sentences in what I found to be a convoluted manner. But those are minor quibbles about a book that manages to take a dispassionate look at Irish history and yet one whose haunting memory will remain with me.
The following quote from "The Fox’s Walk" particularly resonated with me in light of the events in Wisconsin for the last year:
“My nursery diaries and these books show me something that is always true but almost impossible to keep in mind, that our everyday lives — in the main part dull and lacking in important event — are lived in an historical context.”
I read "Hanging on the Wire" by Gillian Linscott in an evening and it was the lone miss after a string of hit titles I found in Johnson's guide. Too many characters and none caught my interest, including the protagonist. It's the middle of WWI and half the population of England wants an end to the slaughter. The other half views the former group as traitors and redoubles their support for the war to counter the protesters. Among the potential victims of this clash are the hospitals and staff treating soldiers who have had mental breakdowns as a result of their experiences; to say nothing of the soldiers themselves.
The ending was a surprise to me — not unusual in a mystery — but seemed to at odds with the whole premise of the story. And Linscott (in my opinion) negated the value of psychoanalysis in general and as an aid to victims of shell shock in WWI by her cavalier treatment of it. An altogether unsatisfactory read, so I won't bother with any of her other titles in this series.
Anne Perry's WWI novels were so superb, as was "The Fox’s Walk," that I plan to continue to use Sarah Johnson's book as a guide to my reading. All of the books that I've referenced, including Johson's guide are all available through the Wisconsin South Central Library System.