Family secrets born of tragic loss…
Atmospheric doesn’t begin to describe this novel. Imagine. A neglected and dilapidated manor house in County Wicklow, Ireland. The owners are two elderly sisters. They haven’t spoken to each other in decades. Though they share the house, they communicate only by terse notes left on the hall table. They do not use each other’s provisions. They have one thing in common: they both love Roscarbury Hall and wouldn’t live anywhere else.
They say that happiness skips a generation…
The sisters’ beloved parents, John and Bernie O’Callaghan, died in a tragic accident when the girls were teenagers. Theirs was a marriage of much love and affection. Their father gifted their mother with a Weiss brooch every year on her birthday.
Ella O’Callaghan (our protagonist) is the elder sister. She ‘turned to the solace of the kitchen the night her mother and father died‘. She married Michael Hannigan and had a daughter who died in 1959, while still an infant. A few months later Michael too was dead…
Ella is the one who takes the majority of responsibility for Roscarbury Hall. It is she who tries to keep the Hall afloat, however times are increasingly hard and the bank is threatening foreclosure. She decides to put her expert baking skills to use and open the ballroom of the Hall as a tearoom/café to generate some much needed funds. Her sister, Roberta is adamantly against this plan.
Roberta O’Callaghan, the younger sister, never married. She has arthritis and hobbles around the old mansion taking constant sips from her flask of sherry which is always with her. Riddled with guilt, she copes by being antagonistic to all she meets.
Debbie Kading, a young American woman, has come to Ireland to search for her birthmother. She comes across the scenic Roscarbury Hall and gets chatting with Ella and her plans for a café. Debbie, though only in Ireland for a short while, agrees to work in the café to help Ella out. Meanwhile, Debbie contacts the local convent to search for her adoption papers. She is met with secrecy, and her efforts are thwarted by the Mother Superior. Terminally ill, and increasingly desperate, Debbie resorts to an appeal on the radio: “I want my mother, if she’s out there, to get in touch. I was born on April 15, 1959, and adopted by the Kadings of New York. Sister Consuelo of the Divine Sisters handled the adoption.” Her actions set in motion the uncovering of a decades old scandal.
“It is an unfair world.”
This is a novel of family secrets, tragic losses, bitterness, blame, betrayal, corrupt adoption practices, a womanizing man and the pain he left behind him. I don’t mind admitting I shed a few tears while reading the O’Callaghan sisters’ story. Their story was poignant and caused the reader to have empathy for all of the key characters. Loved it!
If I had one gripe with this book is that there are no recipes included for Ella’s scrumptious sounding cakes. “The secrets of Roscarbury Hall” is my second selection for “Reading Ireland Month 2018“. The author’s journalistic experience shows in the quality of this, her debut novel!
Ann O’Loughlin, has been a journalist for over 30 years and works for the Irish Examiner. Her debut novel, “The Ballroom Café” was a resounding success and she has since written “The Judge’s Wife” and most recently, “The Ludlow Ladies’ Society“. She lives in County Wicklow, Ireland.
Follow Ann O’Loughlin on Twitter