A classic novel of Ulster life by one of the twentieth-century's greatest writers. Sarah Gomartin, the servant girl on Andrew Echlin's farm, bears a child to one of Andrew's sons. But which one? Her steadfast refusal over many years to 'bend and contrive things' by choosing one of the brothers reverberates through the puritan Ulster community, alienating clergy and neighboA classic novel of Ulster life by one of the twentieth-century's greatest writers. Sarah Gomartin, the servant girl on Andrew Echlin's farm, bears a child to one of Andrew's sons. But which one? Her steadfast refusal over many years to 'bend and contrive things' by choosing one of the brothers reverberates through the puritan Ulster community, alienating clergy and neighbors, hastening her mother's death and casting a cold shadow on the life of her children....
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December Bride Reviews
This novel, originally published in 1951, is seen as a 'classic' in Northern Irish fiction, but is one that I hadn't read before now. It took me a few chapters to get in to, but when I did, I was thoroughly invested in the story.The book, set in a grim farming community close to Strangford Lough in Co Down in the early years of the 20th century, features the Echlins, father Andrew and sons Hamilton and Frank, who have just lost the matriarch of the family, and as a result employ Martha Gomartin and her daughter Sarah to look after the household. After Andrew drowns in a storm, Sarah aims to cement her place in the household by engaging in relations with both brothers, the result of which is a son whose father isn't declared, thereby causing scandal in the community, who use their religious beliefs to condemn the living arrangements of the family. Under Sarah's tutelage, the family prosper, yet the effect that their standing in the community has on their fortunes is huge.When I got used to the writing style and the bleak setting of the novel, I found the narrative highly engaging. Sarah, with her calculating manner was particularly interesting, having herself turned from the church after the death of her father, yet sectarian in many of the dealings she has with neighbours.As the novel covers a lengthy period, it's hard to comment on plot without spoilers, but I've no doubt that Bell captured many of the undoubtedly harsh aspects of rural Ulster life during this period, and the work reminded me a little of the John McGahern novel I read at the end of last year.This novel won't be to everyone's taste, but given my interest in NI social history, this was one that was well worth reading.
I really liked this novel about an agricultural Irish family. I don't often go for books which span such long time spans because I find they miss out on depth of character. However the story in this case concentrates on pivotal moments in the lives of the protagonists and by their speech and action we get to know them pretty well. Their lives, whilst being parochial, are very eventful and these accidents and scandals kept me wondering what was going to happen next. I would certainly read it again, possibly with a dictionary to hand for when the Irish dialect words baffle me.
That rating is 3- in reality and even that feels a bit generous to me.When Andrew Echlin’s wife dies, leaving behind Andrew and two grown sons, the man realises how important the woman was for the smooth running of his farm on the coast of Northern Ireland. Needing someone to take over the tasks his wife used to take care of, Echlin invites Martha Gormartin and her 30 year old daughter Sarah to come and live and work on his farm.It isn’t long before both of Echlin’s sons, Frank and Hamilton take an interest in Sarah, an interest that is mutual.When Sarah falls pregnant and gives birth to a son she refuses to name either of the brothers as the father and declines to marry either of them. This decision sends Sarah’s mother to an early grave and leads to the Echlin farm and its inhabitants being more or less shunned by the puritan Ulster community they live in.It is only twenty years later, when there is only one brother left and Sarah’s second child, a daughter, wants to get married, that Sarah can be persuaded to marry the remaining brother.This is a very grim and equally bare story.What the author offers the reader are snapshots of a life in a time in the past during which horse drawn carts were still the normal form of transport in Ulster. What we get are glimpses at people and their surroundings without every finding out enough about either to feel any attachment to them. Motivations are hinted at but rarely clarified, feelings, when mentioned are suppressed and rarely if ever shared.I read somewhere that a good author shows but doesn’t tell his audience what is going on with the characters in his story. If that is true, this author went about conveying his message in completely the wrong way. Nothing is shown in these pages, everything is told and despite that, or maybe because of that, I never really got a feeling for any of the characters in the book. I think it is quite possible that I could have felt sympathy for Sarah or any of the other characters in the book if I had been given a better insight into their emotions and motivations. But, since the author was cryptic at best when it came to revealing his characters inner lives, I felt I really didn’t care about them or their fate at all.I think this is a book that I would not have finished if it had not been a book for the “Dialogues Through Literature” programme and one that I will be discussing with my reading group at the end of the month. It doesn’t happen very often that I have to force myself to get back to a book, but with this one I found myself looking for excuses to do something else instead of reading. I do understand why this book may have been picked for this reading programme; the story touches on the separation between Catholics and protestants and on the fact that although they had to cooperate occasionally to keep the community going, any conflict could and would be excused through that difference in faith and background.The best I can say about this book is that it will make me appreciate future reads, ones that I do enjoy that much more than I might otherwise have. I guess that every now and again I need to be reminded that some books just aren’t for me.
Dark and compelling landscape, deep characterisation and stunning Ulster-Scots dialogue. A true Irish classic.The opening paragraph is the best I have ever read. It begins, 'Ravara Meeting House mouldered among its gravestones like a mother surrounded by her spinster children.' The story then sweeps along with physical descriptions are that as dark and rich as those of Dickens and Zola. The characterisation is intricate and the reader watches the lives of the protagonists much like the visitors to the Echlin farmhouse do. Bell holds just enough information back from the reader to set the imagination alight. Sarah Gomartin is stoic, strong and so sultry that the minister falls under her ardent spell. The characters are all familiar people. If you're from Northern Ireland, you'll feel like you've met them all somewhere before. I owe a great deal to the lessons of Sam Hanna Bell.
I can't say I loved it, but I can say that it has an interesting pace, and some echoes of myth, such as a woman choosing her partner and the communal parenting of a child. It's set in Northern Ireland, before partition, among a Presbyterian community.
A brilliant evocation of the life and preoccupations of an Ulster Scots family and their community in Ulster a hundred years ago. Sam Hanna Bell is a talented and underrated author, writing of a neglected community and viewpoint. And a great story as well!
Made read this in School. I never got stuck into this book, but it's ok.