“The stolen child” by Lisa Carey – Book Review

“Steeped in Irish history and lore, The Stolen Child is a mesmerizing descent into old world beliefs, and a captivating exploration of desire, myth, motherhood, and love in all its forms.”

We’ve been told that the Irish are a superstitious lot.  This is even more true of rural Ireland of sixty years ago, when this novel is set.  A fictional island of fishers and farmers, with no running water or electricity, St. Brigid’s Island is almost as antiquated as the Celtic saint whose name it bears. A three-mile long island that houses just eight families, myriad sheep, and no trees. The islanders have suffered many loses and the graveyard is on a point of land near where the boats dock.

“The first thing you see when you row a boat to this island is all the children who have already gone.”

“living here is like being slowly drowned, held down on a rock and left for the tide to come in”

The island has a well, a holy well, said to have magical powers attributed to Brigid. The islanders hold an odd juxtaposition of beliefs.  They are Roman Catholics, but they also believe in the ‘fairies’ or little people.  They all have a St. Brigid’s cross adorning their cottage walls. When they are in need of succor they pray to the Catholic saints, then, to cover their bases, they pray to the fairies…

There are two female protagonists in “The stolen child“, a story that tells of women who are stretched to their limit both physically and emotionally – and then called upon to endure even more.

Emer uses her hands to do damage.  Leaching away other people’s happiness is the only thing she has ever been able to do.

Emer, a caustic, dour and joyless woman of twenty-three years.  Twin sister to the joyful and sunny Rose, mother to Niall whom she adores.  She has never had a friend and has always felt ‘alone’. Emer lost one of her eyes years ago to an infection brought about by myriad bee stings.  Though the islanders believe in the holy healing powers of the sacred well, the waters failed to save Emer’s eye.  Emer and her twin sister have known unimaginable hardship in their short lives. When they were just twelve years old, their mother had a stroke and they’ve been doing all the work ever since. Girls on this island were born to work and help their mothers.  Boys were born to please their mothers.  Emer lives in fear that Niall, her son and the light of her life, will be ‘stolen‘.  She fears that the fairies will seek retribution.

Emer had such low expectations and then watched,
time and again, as they were realized

Rose is the ‘good’ sister married to the hard-working Austin, the good brother.  Emer is the ‘bad’ sister married to the lesser brother, Patch, a drunkard.  Emer has never known happiness and she spreads her bitterness to whomever she meets – until she meets Brigid.

“They would never be pure,
but they were expected to attack the tarnish daily.”

peat fire with kettle

Brigid uses her hands to heal. 

Brigid, nearing her fortieth birthday, has come to the island from the American state of Maine.  The daughter of a lighthouse keeper, Brigid is no stranger to hard work and hardship herself. Her mother’s family were from this island, and now she has returned…  A widow who has suffered many miscarriages, she longs for a child of her own.  She hopes that the island’s holy well will bring about a miracle and bring her a child and the peace she has craved all her life.

Brigid befriends a stray and half starved dog whom she names Rua. She is her constant companion. “She loved that stupid creature as if it were her own child and not a dog at all”.

But Brigid has come to an island with a dying way of life, one that is soon to end, for the islanders are to be relocated to the mainland.

“the sea looks like a calm blue walkway pretending as though it never tries to trap them in rage.”

Two men in a curragh circa 1960

This is a story rich with Irish folklore about strong and resilient Irish women.  A novel which poses the question: If you want and crave something strong enough… can YOU MAKE it happen? Historical fiction liberally doused throughout with magical realism – with themes of motherhood, superstition, betrayal, suspicion, endurance, loneliness, and grief.

“When something is stolen from you, it is sometimes easier to act like you never wanted it in the first place.”

As a background tale, the novel also tells of the history of the Celtic saint Brigid, and her colony of medieval pagan nuns that once inhabited the island.  The nuns lived a harsh and brutal existence, residing in pairs in beehive-shaped stone huts called clochans. Like the protagonists of the novel, they too were women fending for themselves in dire circumstances. 

“There is a striking similarity between anticipation and dread”.

Written with beautiful language and turns of phrase, the story causes the reader to become enraptured by the women, the island, and even St. Brigid herself. The author took five years to write “The stolen child” which was inspired by Kieran Concannon’s documentary film, “Death of an island“. Highly recommended!

I wish to thank HarperCollins publishers who provided me with a digital copy of this novel via Edelweiss. A perfect addition to my “Reading Ireland” month entries.

“The stolen child” is available for purchase at the following retail booksellers:


Lisa Carey‘s award-winning novels have been translated into a dozen languages and optioned for film.

Born in Massachusetts, Lisa Carey lived in Ireland for five years and now resides in Portland, Maine, with her husband and their son – and returns to Ireland whenever she can.

About Fictionophile

Fiction reviewer ; Goodreads librarian. Retired library cataloger - more time to read! Loves books, gardening, and red wine. I have been a reviewer member of NetGalley since October 2013. I review titles offered by Edelweiss, and participate in blog tours with TLC Book Tours.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Edelweiss, Favorite books, Historical fiction and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to “The stolen child” by Lisa Carey – Book Review

  1. Pingback: Fictionophile’s Top Reads of 2017 | Fictionophile

  2. Pingback: Begorrathon 2017: Go Raibh Maith Agaibh agus Slán! | The Fluff Is Raging

  3. Dorothy Gracie says:

    This book sounds fantastic! If your excellent review is anything to go by, this is a definitely a book to be added to any TBR list. My partner and I are planning a trip to Ireland sometime in the next few years to visit the small villages from whence his family hails…this sounds like it might be a good forerunner to the trip to get me in the Irish spirit.


  4. Annie says:

    Ohh I love stories set in Ireland, I clearly need to read more! 😀 Awesome review!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Now I’m singing Loreena McKennitt’s version of “The Stolen Child” in my head. 🙂 Wonderful review. I received a copy from LibraryThing, and now I really want to get started on it! Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This sounds very interesting, enjoyed your review!


  7. Christine says:

    Wonderful review, Lynne. Really loved the photos you included.


  8. skyecaitlin says:

    A lovely review; this book has a haunting premise, steeped with nature as a perfect backdrop. The atmosphere of this setting really provides another character–St. Brigid’s Island. Since I favor this Holy Saint and I am drawn to everything Celtic, especially on this particular day, I am interested in reading this.


  9. Susie | Novel Visits says:

    I love all the photos you included in this review. Nice touch! I’ve been curious about The Stolen Child and now definitely want to take a closer look at it.


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