Book Review: The Flight of the Wren
Author, Orla McAlinden
by Julie Carpenter
I read this book when it came out in 2018 and it’s one of the few books I’ve read over the last couple of years that still haunts me. I am just sitting down to do a review for various reasons, including two moves, renovation chaos, and a small family medical crisis. No one ever accused me of being organized. Still, I think this may be a very good time to read this book, with the heavy footsteps of a pandemic and other signs of the apocalypse trudging on in the background. (I’m only partly kidding.)
I’m going to be upfront. I love this book and it comes highly recommended but with a caveat. It’s a difficult read in some places. The book is about the life of the Curragh Wrens, a group of outcast Irish women who lived in “The Curragh” area on the plains of Kildare. For one reason or another, these women were shunned from polite society. Many were forced to survived by prostitution, scratching out a bare living in makeshift shelters or “nests” dug into the soil, which gave birth to their avian designation. In Ireland at that time, there was no lower caste than the Wrens. They were even given separate and lesser housing at the workhouse.
This story takes place in two places and times. It begins in Ireland in 1848 and follows a young girl, Sally, and her introduction into the sad sisterhood of the Wrens. The second, intertwining part of the narrative takes place in Hobart, Tasmania during the Spanish flu of 1919. A woman named Saoirse Gordon sits by her grandmother’s bed as the dying old woman begins to tell her the truth about her past. The two tales gradually become one as Saoirse deals with the fallout of her true history.
McAlinden doesn’t pull any punches. Her characters are sharply drawn and compelling. The tone is hard and honest. The narrative moves at pace that makes the book hard to put down. But the going is often tough. There were a few times I had to take a break from the grinding hardships that felt all too real. Especially in the sections of the book that focused on Sally, the truth about the way humans can treat each other, the ways in which they cannot accept the humanity of the other, become painful, largely because the writing is so compelling. However, the author’s wise use of the double time frame helps mitigate the unrelenting pain of the Irish famine and allows the reader the breathing space of history to make sense of the story. The payoff of catharsis at the end turns out to be worth every bit of the journey.
This book is very timely both in its themes and the setting of the pandemic. It’s beauty lies in its acknowledgement of the deep pain of being human and the powerful will to live through the agony and change history, at least for those you love. If you haven’t read it previously, this is an excellent time to do so.
Read our Review of Orla McAlindens’ book The Accidental Wife here.
Read her review of I am No one here.
Julie Carpenter is the creator of the Sacred Chickens website. She is dedicated to telling stories and making sure that indie writers and publishers have a way to be heard. She uses narrative, her own and others’, to help interpret the world. She has a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Memphis, with an emphasis in Composition Theory. She wants to bend reality one story at a time. Julie’s work has appeared in Fiction on the Web and will be included The New Guard. She is currently working on a novel.