Redemption Falls by Joseph O’Connor
Introduced by Barbara Erskine
This is the most extraordinary, messy, uncomfortable, fascinating, compelling book I have read for a long time. Those words also describe life! And history. And this is what brings such an amazing sense of truth to the book. It purports to be a collection of documents, letters, diary entries, transcripts from the collection of a descendent of one of the protagonists.
Set in the immediate aftermath of the American Civil War and in the lawless territories of the north west this is completely compelling. These are the Irish immigrants (one the daughter of two passengers from The Star of the Sea so magnificently described in Joseph’s earlier book) and it is full of the lyricism, the beauty and the pain and the ugliness and duplicity which is their life. And there are moments of love too. Equally painful, equally beautiful.
Not an easy read, I thought, but so very much worth every moment. It has haunted me ever since I finished it.
Barbara Erskine is the author of fourteen novels and four collections of short stories. She lives in Hay-on-Wye.
Here she introduces herself and her writing:
‘My interest in history began with my own family. My mother’s parents had lived out in India – my grandfather’s family having been there for some 200 years serving with the East India Company and in the Indian Army.
My grandmother’s family came from the wilds of south west Ireland but she met and married my grandfather in India and there my mother and my aunt were born. By the time I was born they were all back in England, but I still remember the exotic cedar- lined trunks in my grandparents’ attic, the silk saris, the delicate gold and silver stitched slippers which were sent as gifts to their grandchildren from Indian friends and colleagues, the wonderful exotic smells of spices and incense arising from those treasure chests, big enough for a small child to dive into .
My father, romantically, met my mother on the squash court in Sussex where he was stationed as a Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot. His family combined two wonderfully contrasted heritages. Two hundred years of clergymen (mostly – though some were ‘yeomen’ and presumably yeowomen and some ‘gentlemen’ and gentlewomen ) living on the borders of Essex and Suffolk in what must have been a Jane Austen-type lifestyle of utter respectability, with a wild and aristocratic castle-dwelling bloodline from the mountains and moors of northeast Scotland.
My great aunt was the family genealogist and from her I learned my love of those ancient tales and my fascination with a family tree which began on one side with ‘the heiress of the Picts’ (a lady so ancient she had no remembered name) and, oh yes, if we believe the story, a direct descent along with many thousands of others, of course, from THE bloodline of Da Vinci-code fame! That realisation rocked the more sober clergy genes, as did the revelation that one of the ancestors of the Erskines was no less an entity than the god Woden!
My love of history has remained. I studied Scottish history at Edinburgh University and it was there that I began (and temporarily abandoned) my first attempt at a novel – the story which would one day become Kingdom of Shadows. Later while I worked for an educational publisher and then as a freelance researcher for books on art and history I began to sell short stories and to dream about becoming a full-time writer with a handful of historical Mills & Boons – a wonderful training in professionalism and in coming to terms with the horror of the deadline. At the same time while I was living in the Black Mountains near Hay-on-Wye in the Welsh Border March I started working on the research for Lady of Hay, at first as a part-time hobby and a barely formed idea, then with more and more urgency. Exactly ten years after I first roughed out the story line, the book was finally published. That same year I found myself to my amazement and total terror talking about it on prime time TV and later doing a coast to coast tour of the USA. What had my dreams got me into!’