SHELF AWARENESS REVIEW: May 18, 2017
Playwright Kathleen Anne Kenney unfolds Siobhan Doyle’s coming-of-age story in Girl on the Leeside. Since her mother’s death in an IRA bombing when Siobhan was a toddler, she has lived a quiet life in rural western Ireland with her uncle Keenan. Steeped in the traditions of village life and ancient Irish poetry, both Siobhan and Kee are content with their nearly solitary existence, serving customers in their family’s pub, the Leeside, and discussing literature. But when American professor Tim Ferris comes to visit the Leeside and talk about poetry, Siobhan is drawn to him in a way she can’t explain. As she wrestles with her unfamiliar feelings for Tim, she also learns that her father, whom she thought had also died in the bombing, is still alive.
Kenney uses the image of the lee side (the area of a tree or structure protected from wind and weather) not only as the name of Kee’s pub, but also as an apt metaphor for Siobhan’s sheltered, safe existence. Though she works in a pub and has a few treasured friendships with people she’s known all her life, she is naive, fearful of the world. Kenney sensitively explores the complications Siobhan faces as she comes out of her shell, daring to imagine a life beyond the Leeside, and even considering the possibility of falling in love.
Though this is mainly Siobhan’s story, Kenney draws other characters and their struggles with deft, vivid strokes. Uncle Kee, who was devoted to his rebellious younger sister (Siobhan’s mother), has done his best to raise his niece in an atmosphere of safety and love while regretting his stalled career as a teacher. Katie O’Farrell, a brash horse breeder whose feelings for Kee run deeper than she cares to admit, also plays a surprising role in helping both uncle and niece face new challenges. Siobhan’s father, John, a former British soldier, has been chasing his own demons but is a fundamentally decent man. And Galway Gwen, the enigmatic traveler who comes through with her family once a year, provides both a connection to Ireland’s history and a source of wisdom and comfort for Siobhan. Kenney gathers her narrative threads in a satisfying way, while leaving her characters–especially Siobhan–open to new possibilities.
Quiet, lyrical and sprinkled with verses of the Irish poetry Siobhan loves, Girl on the Leeside is a slim, beautiful debut about one woman taking her place in the world.
BOOKLIST ADVANCE REVIEW: May 1, 2017
To live on a leeside is to be sheltered from the wind, and Siobhan’s life is on both a literal and figurative leeside. Sheltered by overprotective Uncle Kee in a tiny Irish village, Siobhan shares with him a deep love and understanding of Irish poetry, and they care for each other. Siobhan is content in her small, sealed world until an American scholar of Irish poetry comes to visit and begins to show her possibilities of life beyond. She tentatively shows him some of her own poetry but concocts a lie about its origins. Then, too, Uncle Kee holds secrets about her mother’s death, in an IRA bombing. When Siobhan’s father appears, a man she believed to have been killed in the same blast, she begins to see Uncle Kee in a new light. As events unfold, Siobhan slowly realizes that the safe comfort of the leeside may also have been a kind of prison that has kept her from a fuller experience of life. Lovers of Irish poetry will find this book a treat.
“In its hauntingly evocative Irish setting, this is a book suffused with poetry—real poetry. It is a book of awakenings of every kind, and of moving surprises. Like all good stories, as this local tale unfolds it becomes universal.”
—Edward Rutherfurd, Author of Paris and The Princes of Ireland