After the Rising is a part coming of age story, part historical novel, dealing as it does with the Irish Civil War in the 1920s. Told from the point of view of Jo Devereux in the present and the letters, diaries and journals of her female relatives filling in the narrative in the 1920s, it is an ambitious, epic of a novel.
Jo is charged with writing the family history over the three generations but when she gradually uncovers the secrets of the past she is confronted by the knowledge that she too is as much part of the story as the earlier generations and so can scarcely be objective. No wonder she struggles with writer’s block…..
I don’t have anyone left alive now to ask about the impact of the Irish Civil War on my own family as by then both of my Irish great uncles had already been killed in the First World War. And so After the Rising is an important book for me as it goes some way towards explaining what the conflict meant to ordinary people. Families who might have lived amicably, side by side were torn apart because of their politics and the repercussions felt down the generations.
The characters in this book are so vivid that they seem to leap off the page and that is, I think, due to the ear for language and idiom.
After the Rising is beautifully written with carefully chosen words that are as precise as the word selection in a poem. I particularly admired the description of the sea in this sentence: ‘For weeks they’d had an east wind with the waves hurrying to the shore with veils of spray blown back, like an army of angry brides.’
The other aspect of After the Rising that really resonated with me was Jo’s experience at convent boarding school. I’ve done my best to forget mine but the passages that describe the relentless routine brought it all back. Like Jo, I too had to ‘go to one of the secret places I have hunted down,’ just to get some privacy.
I found After the Rising at times tragic at times funny, witty and warm.