Kate Thompson: Liddy Family Trilogy

Dear lovers of literature, today you get a special treat: Irish lore brought into the modern context and turned into a trio of the most satisfying novels I’ve read lately. Novels that will break your heart and heal your soul and make you laugh out loud.

Now the first thing to understand is that Kate Thompson (that’s her website there) writes whereof she knows: she writes about her own world, Ireland, and its music and literature. She writes with touching love about this material and its dual nature: ephemeral, yet lasting.

The stories are actually pretty straightforward and almost beside the point for what I want to tell you about, which is family and history and the power of nature.

The first novel, The New Policeman, introduces you to the family we come to love: the Liddy family in Kinvara, which is passionate about music and dancing. J.J. Liddy is just a boy, profoundly attached to his family and its history. He’s particularly attached to the music they play. But one day he realizes that time is leeching out of Ireland into another dimension and he finds himself over in T’ír na n’Óg (the land of eternal youth from Irish lore) trying to save both worlds– the world of his earthly family, and T’ír na n’Óg, the land he soon realizes is equally connected to his family history.

That’s where we start, in the world of J.J. Liddy from about 70 years ago. But then we fast-forward to 2007, the “present day” of The Last of the High Kings, which takes us into trickier territory. This novel embroils us in not only the history of changelings and magic, but also in family tensions and, deepest of all, the first stirrings of terror over the fate of the world: global warming.

The final novel, The White Horse Trick, takes us into the future: J.J. Liddy is no longer in Ireland, but in T’ír na n’Óg. But Ireland is in dire trouble, and his family is– well, I’m not going to spoil this for you. Suffice it to say: the hints of global warming have completely manifested themselves in this novel and it is heart-breaking to see the horrors which overtake beautiful Ireland, and yet the ending is one of the most nuanced and healing literary experiences I’ve read.

So that’s the three books in a REALLY tight nutshell. Remember, these are novels, and I just summarized each in a matter of, oh, 75-ish words. Let me give you a better taste of what they mean now that you know a taste of the content. These aren’t just novels about Ireland and its lore, represented by T’ír na n’Óg, nor are they depressing news stories about the dangers of global warming. You can get the first by reading a guide book or the Acallam na Senórach. You can get the second anywhere you look– with a few sadly notable exceptions.

No, the notable thing about Kate Thompson’s novels is that they are, as I said at the very beginning, about what she knows: her own small slice of Ireland. They’re set in a very narrow space which she loves so profoundly that her characters, J.J. Liddy especially, walk the ground with joy coming out of each step. J.J.’s daughter, Jenny, runs barefoot through the grass and stones. Their friend Mikey literally gives his afterlife for the joy and love he feels for the land and its people. The púka loves it so much that I’m not going to explain that bit to you, but, trust, me he loves it. And the fairy folk have their own relationship from T’ír na n’Óg which is difficult to explain, too, but is part and parcel of the whole history of Ireland.

Which brings me back to T’ír na n’Óg and the story of stories and music: See, here’s the thing. Most books about a place, deeply rooted as they are in that place, are very restricted. Think of the beauty of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s books: you can’t get much better than them, can you? But they’re restricted in time and place. So, you will point out to me, are Kate Thompson’s books. Isn’t that what I just spent a paragraph saying, that they’re restricted to a small slice of Ireland, what she knows, and that’s what makes them so good?

Excellent reading comprehensions skills, well said! BUT. Part of what makes them so good is that they go deep. Historically deep. Geographically deep. Into geology of the past and the future. They cover the story of that small slice of Ireland from historic lore to the projected far future. Oh my God, are they good. So, T’ír na n’Óg is part and parcel of that history and, so she suggests, that future! The source of all music and history and lore, T’ír na n’Óg, is going to endure, no matter what we do to the earth.

So, T’ír na n’Óg isn’t just lore and storytelling: it’s hope, too.

OK, maybe it’s all fairy tales. I mean, look, realistically speaking, once we ruin the earth, how many of us really believe that we have a T’ír na n’Óg to preserve music and culture, etc.? And yet literature and contemporary stories are full of ways out. And, to my mind, this is one of the most beautiful, satisfying, and, somehow, sensible ways out I’ve read. As in, it makes sense within its own story. I get it, in a way I didn’t “get” Wall-E, for example (nothing against Wall-E, it broke my heart, too, but it wasn’t “my” story the way the Liddy books are), and I think even non-Celticists will fall in love with Ireland and T’ír na n’Óg and feel a burning wish to preserve both the land and the stories of the land upon reading these books.

To sum up: These are family stories on every level. The family of the Liddy clan, of their extended clan in T’ír na n’Óg, and of Ireland beyond that level, and also the family of the human race. As you read, you will fall in love anew with everything to do with earth, its beauty, and its stories.

And, if you do read these books and want to know more about T’ír na n’Óg? Drop me a line and we can talk stories! Maybe I’ll write an Irish story reading list here, to link to this entry…

Now, go forth and read!

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