It is the age of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, when Europe burns with a passion for long-flowing locks. And when seven sisters, born into fatherless poverty in Ireland, grow up with hair cascading down their backs, to their ankles, and beyond, men are not slow to recognise their potential.
It begins with a singing and dancing septet, with Irish jigs kicked out in dusty church halls. But it is not the sisters’ singing or their dancing that fills the seats: it is the torrents of hair they let loose at the end of each show. And their hair will take dark-hearted Darcy, bickering twins Berenice and Enda, plain Pertilly, gentle Oona, wild Ida and fearful, flame-haired Manticory – the inimitable narrator of their on-and-off stage adventures – out of poverty, through the dance halls of Ireland, to the salons of Dublin and the palazzi of Venice. It will bring some of them love and each of them loss. For their past trails behind the sisters like the tresses on their heads, and their fame and fortune will come at a terrible price...
Michelle Lovric is a novelist, writer and anthologist.
Her third novel, The Remedy, was long-listed for the 2005 Orange Prize for Fiction. The Remedy is a literary murder-mystery set against the background of the quack medicine industry in the eighteenth century.
Her first novel, Carnevale, is the story of the painter Cecilia Cornaro, described by The Times as the possessor of ‘the most covetable life’ in fiction in 2001.
In Lovric’s second novel, The Floating Book, a chorus of characters relates the perilous beginning of the print industry in Venice. The book explores the translation of raw emotion into saleable merchandise from the points of view of poets, editors, publishers – and their lovers. The Floating Book, a London Arts award winner, was also selected as a WH Smith ‘Read of the Week’.
Her first novel for young adult readers, The Undrowned Child, is published by Orion. The sequel is due in summer 2010.
Her fourth adult novel, The Book of Human Skin, is published by Bloomsbury in Spring 2010.
Lovric reviews for publications including The Times and writes travel articles about Venice. She has featured in several BBC radio documentaries about Venice.
She combines her fiction work with editing, designing and producing literary anthologies including her own translations of Latin and Italian poetry. Her book Love Letters was a New York Times best-seller.
Lovric divides her time between London and Venice. She holds a workshop in her home in London with published writers of poetry and prose, fiction and memoir.
who knew that a book about hair would be so dang good? we're not talking about everyday run-of-the-mill hair here - this book is inspired by the sutherland sisters, seven women who were part of the barnum and bailey circus in 1882, who would perform musical numbers and then, for their finale, dramatically unpin their collective 36 1/2 feet of hair to the delight of the crowd. they supplemented their income by producing a line of hair tonics and dyes and became very wealthy and successful, but they were also a wildly eccentric bunch who experienced a series of nearly gothic tragedies before the end of their run.
lovric takes these sisters and transplants them to ireland just after the famine, and during the pre-raphaelite movement in art, where long hair had taken on a deeply erotic resonance.
the seven swiney sisters: darcy, the twins berenice and enda, pertilly, oona, ida and manticory grow up incredibly poor - the lowest of the low in county kildare, where their only chance for advancement lies in their enviably luxurious hair and the black ambition of darcy, the eldest. their mother annora is raising them alone, and her mysterious husband - a mariner and rumored fenian - comes secretly under cover of night once a year, nine months after which a new sister is born. none of his daughters have ever seen him, and his only legacies to them are their names, and their spectacular and variously-hued spectrum of hair, which causes gossip and insinuations over their paternity and legitimacy.
the conditions under which the girls come of age are bleak:
The Hunger had taken one in three in County Kildare. All around houses stood empty, except of rumoured bones. Certainly no Swineys but ourselves had survived the cull. The poorest children of Harristown were born with Famine's imprint, like a bruise from a fist dark under their cheekbones and a startled look as if they'd just been kicked from behind towards their graves. Their mothers carried baby corpses around, begging for coffin money even at our poor door. Older children starved quickly and quietly; we came to know the pitiful signs of it and turned our heads from the sight of a boy or a girl who we'd not see the next day. The adults went about it in wilder ways. You would not want to go to nearby Naas, the priest warned us, for fear of the mob that might lynch you for the meat on your bones, and its street lined with those who'd delivered themselves to town just so someone could witness them dying. They lay down in the street so they must be walked over.
this is not a story of a group of loving sisters overcoming poverty and adversity - far from being a tight-knit sorority, the sisters have divided themselves into constantly bickering factions, none more virulently antagonistic than the twins, and they are all presided over by the cruel figure of darcy, with her barbed tongue and quick hands, who maintains the home of all the profanity in Ireland . there is also an eighth ghostly sister - ‘the eileen o’reilly’, the butcher's daughter who is fascinated by the sisters and watches them constantly through the cracks in their door or hidden away in the bushes.
but darcy is cunning and she has a vision - a way for the sisters to rise above their station and make use of what they have and what they are willing to display. she bullies her sisters into taking the stage - singing and dancing and acting out a combination of hair-centric figures such as medusa and pope's Rape of the Lock, and original material written by the redheaded manticory, the narrator of this story.
Annora raised us in the True Faith, the true faith of poverty and Irishness and oppression, not to mention illiteracy.
but manticory overcomes her illiteracy and comes to love the power of words, even when she is being made to write the foolish stage-pieces darcy desires.
manticory is the most clear-eyed and intelligent of all the sisters, with a keen sensibility and perspective on the world around her
You may be thinking now that my words are very and too much like the rain, pelting down on you without particularity or mercy. And I shall say that perhaps it is the rain forever scribbling on our roofs and our faces that teaches the Irish our unstinting verbosity. It's what we have, instead of food or luck. Think of it as a generosity of syllables, a wishful giving of words when we have nothing else to offer by way of hospitality: we lay great mouthfuls of language on you to round your bellies and comfort your thoughts like so many boileds and roasts, or even a lick of Finn MacCool's finger dipped in the milk that simmered the Salmon of Wisdom.
but even so, she is powerless to oppose darcy, who has a cruel secret to hold over her. the sisters are enjoying a measure of success in their performances, which then escalates when darcy is approached by a man named augustus rainfleury, who recognizes the potential for creating a line of dolls in the likenesses of the swiney godivas, and a man named tristan stoker, who conceives of a line of hair tonics and other unguents to capitalize on their fame.
and they become immeasurably successful, touring cities from dublin to venice. but - mo' money, mo' problems, and they run up against many many problems.
the abundance and spectacle of their hair is what leads them out of poverty, but it is also what leads them into trouble, as the men begin to take advantage of them and they become objectified, fetishized commodities, coupled with the internal problems stemming from darcy's greed, ida's instability, berenice's jealousy, manticory's discomfort, and several jealous attacks from the outskirts.
it's a beautiful, densely-written story that is successful both in its historical detail and in creating vivid and realistic characters, with these wonderfully lyrical turns of phrase:
Pertilly's was one of those Irish smiles that's never more than an acknowledgment of hopeless adversity.
and a small scatter of magical-realism that pops in unexpectedly. or not unexpectedly - it's ireland, after all.
one more small noteworthy comment - i have always found sexxy-scenes to be so boring to read, but there is one in this, towards the end, that i thought was really lovely and tasteful and evocative. i am putting it in a spoiler-tag, because of the names involved, but i will let you decide whether to click it or not.
i loved this book for its sprawl and its darkness and its intricacy. beautifully done, and highly recommended.
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Whoa! I cringed through the first 100 pages of this book. Not because it was bad, but because it was too good to be true. It's always a little disconcerting for me when a book is astonishing from the get go, because I'm waiting for it to unravel or fall apart. I figured that would happen with this one eventually. But miracle of miracles it never did. This book is a delight from page one. And nothing has ever made me want to visit Ireland so much as this book did. That's not a burn against Ireland. But there was such a vividness of description, that smell, language, dialect, culture, history, legend, lore leaped off the page at me. The story of seven sisters, their abundance of hair, and the trials and tribulations that come as a result of this could have been the stuff of fluffy lightweight melodrama. But I do not exaggerate when I say that nothing I have read in contemporaneous fiction, comes as close to resembling a Bronte novel as this one does. I'm not going to say which Bronte as we all have our favourites and dislikes and I'm not planning on prejudicing you one way or the other. The fact that there were seven sisters alone who formed the core of the novel's characters presents challenges in differentiation, but each sister was such a personality and had such a unique voice. I was constantly on the verge of weeping at how beautiful a grasp of language Michelle Lovric has. This book could have been written in the 19th century. Every sentence and paragraph feels carefully thought through but not at the expense of pushing the narrative forward. Turns of phrase stopped my in my tracks and had to be re-read. This isn't a case of style over substance. There is a complete harmony at work here. I don't think this book will be a huge deal commercially. I won it through a Goodreads giveaway and wasn't expecting much, but was astonished at how utterly it captivated me. If you're someone like me who laments that they don't write them like they used to, do yourself a favour and read this book.
Loosely based on the true story of the Seven Sutherland Sisters, this novel tells the tale of seven dirt poor Irish girls who become famous because of their hair.
I would like to change the title, though. Instead of "The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters" I think it should read, " The True and Sordid History of the Harristown Sisters.". What a messed up bunch!
The author can write, but I only partly enjoyed this. My favorite part was the beginning, while the girls are young and destitute in Ireland. But honestly, I didn't find any of them very likable, even then. The hatred and antagonism which at first was humorously expressed, became unrelenting and darker as the book progressed.
And while at first I sympathized with the characters feelings of being morally raped and exploited by big business, when I saw the choices that each of them made in their individual lives over time, I couldn't help but question if they had any moral fibre to start with. I wasn't buying it.
However, after roughly 400 pages of misery, the author seemed to feel the need to lighten things up a bit so she quickly sketched a rather far fetched, happy as pie, disney-esque ending. Whaaat....?
But there are some very fascinating (if dark) portions here, particularly regarding the growing of horns and a breastbone harp. I won't say anymore but that was pretty genius.
Bottom Line: An ok read, but not a keeper for me.
Two Sex Scenes, the first one pretty much fade to black, the second more detailed and squicky. TMI
There are books that you love, and then there are books that lift you up, spin you around, and then drop you back to earth, dazzled. ‘The True and Splendid Adventures of the Harristown Sisters’ is one of those books; a captivating story packed full of full of characters, incidents and images.
There were seven Swiney sisters, and they were all blessed with fantastic rivers of hair, cascading below their knees and ranging in color from honey gold to copper red to the deepest black. Darcy, the eldest, was dark-haired and dark-hearted; twins Berenice and Enda bickered incessantly; Oona was gentle and fair; Pertilly was plain and Stolid; Ida was the youngest, a wild fairy queen; and flame-haired middle sister, Manticory, would tell all of their stories and the stories of them all.
The were all beautifully, richly and distinctively drawn, and each sister has her own role in the story that was to come.
They grow up penniless, fatherless and hungry; raised on tales of their sailor father—whose unpredictable nocturnal visits are witnessed only by their mother – that they do not entirely believe. It’s no wonder, as they are all so different, and they are treated with scorn by their neighbours.
Darcy is treated with particular contempt by her mortal enemy – ‘the Eileen O’Reilly’ – but she finds a way to fight back. She conceives a plan to free the girls from poverty: she bullies her sisters into creating a vaudeville show, filled with maudlin songs and hair-oriented skits, with a finale featuring the sisters simply letting down their prodigious locks in a cascade.
In an age when women always wore their hair pinned up, when they only let it down at night, in the privacy of their bedrooms, Darcy thought that her show would be a sensation. It was, and it was a success beyond her wildest dreams.
It doesn’t take long though, for unscrupulous men appear to manipulate the young women financially and romantically. As they rise from Harristown, to Dublin, and then to Venice, they have to deal with notoriety and scandal, and as sisters fall under different influences and pull in different directions there are consequences for them all.
Can the show go on?
Manticory begins to have doubts about the products they hawk, she questions Darcy’s financial management and the close control she keeps of all their purse-strings, and she wonders about the mysterious small grave in the backyard of their Harristown home ….
The telling of the story is sublime, the prose is gorgeously descriptive, somehow rich, poetic and earthy all at the same time. The settings are magically evoked, they live and breathe, and so many story strands – same that are predictable and some that are anything but – are woven together to make a glorious tapestry of a book.
There’s wit, there’s colour and there’s love threaded through what might otherwise have been a very dark story.
And at the centre of it all are those fascinating, infuriating sisters; they quarrel bitterly, they feud, they take sides against each other, but they also cling together and keep each others secrets. Such a wonderful portrayal of sisterhood! I loved watching them all interact, and their conversations were a joy.
I loved Manticory’s narration; I loved the way the story played out; I loved that there was a thread of feminism that was strained at the time but that never quite broke; I loved so many things ….
This story was inspired by the true story of the ‘Seven Sutherland Sisters,’ who were once household names in America, who used their locks to sell hair products, who found fame and fortune; and who at one time owned the grandest of mansions where they lived together ….
That story sounds fascinating, and really it couldn’t have inspired a finer fiction.
‘The True and Splendid Adventures of the Harristown Sisters’ more than lives up to its name; it pulled me into its world, it held me spell-bound, and I was so sorry when the story was over and I had to let go.
It must be a mixed blessing, having written a book as excruciating and wonderful as The Book of Human Skin, that every other thing you write will be set against it and, perhaps inevitably, found wanting in the comparison. And I was - just a little - disappointed with The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters, though there is much that is terrifically good here and I still can't decide how much what I did like outweighed what I didn't. It doesn't help that it is so slow to start; so very slow; achingly slow. It really does take an awful long time to get going, but get going it eventually does, and worth the wait when the story takes off as the sisters hit Dublin, when it becomes a wonderfully readable tale, until it hits the romantic buffers and everything slows to a crawl again. It is an odd story, and an almost true one, based on the almost forgotten, but once famous, Seven Sutherland Sisters from Niagara. Michelle Lovric's tale of seven impoverished Irish sisters who become rich and famous for their lovely, lavish, ankle-length hair, is very enjoyable for the most part, though some sections are tediously drawn out and would have benefited hugely from a truly vicious edit. But even the slowest chapters are lifted by the writing, which is richly sensual, lyrical, poetic. The musical creative verbacity of Irish speech is gloriously drawn; Darcy and Eileen O Reilly's verbal death matches are the highlight of the book. The main problem for me was that I didn't really like any of the central characters. The supporting cast were great; Eileen O' Reilly was entertaining, as were the roguish business partners Rainfleury and Tristan, but the sisters themselves - who are the meat and potatoes of it - were infuriating. Darcy of course is simply vile, almost cartoonishly so, but at least she has strength. The rest of the Swiney brood were pathetic: such sad sacks of feeble wet blankets with no enterprise or spirit at all; entirely reliant on others to run their lives, to make them rich and keep them poor. Red-headed Manticory, the voice of the tale, is almost the worst of all in that she knows what's going on but never speaks out. She is supposedly named for her red hair, for being 'leonine in courage and ferocity' - ironic, since these are qualities that seem most lacking in the silly girl: mouse hearts, the lot of them, as Eileen sagaciously puts it. I couldn't respect or like any of them. I spent too much of the tale wanting to take a cricket bat to each of their heads. My animosity for these supremely silly females ultimately spoiled my pleasure in the story. I've been struggling to rate it because I loved and hated it in almost exactly equal measure. Two stars, I think, for the slowness of the story and the irritating sisters; four for an interesting tale, well told for the most part and wonderfully descriptive. A corking good - if maddening - read.
This is the wonderfully rich, fruity, bawdy and crude but elegant tale of seven hairy sisters born into the Irish famine in the late 1800’s. The sisters are delightfully named Darcey, Enda, Berenice, Manticory, Oona, Pertilly and Ida, all dirty, scrawny and the poorest of the poor, but with the saving grace of lusciously long, (admittedly nit and lice ridden) lengths of hair, each sister blessed with her own shade. Oona of the the soft pale hair and deep throaty voice, Dark Darcey and flame haired and thoughtful Manticory, Brunette Berenice, gentle Enda, chubby Pertilly and Ida the youngest who is not quite all there. The sisters eventually stumble upon the idea of making their fortune by entertaining the public by singing, dancing and acting and letting their glorious knee length hair down; hair being a much coveted commodity in those pre-raphaelite times. They became known as the Seven Swiney Godivas and eventually become international stars. This is a tale of bitter and violent sibling rivalry, of love and desire, betrayal, violence exploitation and murder. The story is set in Dublin, and Venice, both settings equally captivating. The story takes a full turn and the seven sisters end up almost as poor as they began the story. I absolutely loved this book and will be recommending it heartily to everyone I know that enjoys reading. I loved the richness of the language, the dirtiness of the characters, their violence towards one another, the twists and turns on the plot. If I had to make a criticism, (and this is my only criticism of a lot of books) it is that there were a couple of unanswered loose ends that I felt the author did not address at the end of the book. This took away from the realistic nature of the book, and up until that point I felt that the story was mostly plausible. I won’t go into any further depth so as not to spoil for those who have not yet read it, however I am more than happy to discuss these with people who have read the book, in fact I can’t wait to be able to discuss this with others! So hurry up and read it! Each and every page was a joy to read. Having previously tried and failed to read the Book of Human Skin I was fairly dubious when I realised that this book is by the same Author; Michelle Lovric however my misgivings did not last past the first page and I am now making a fresh start with the Book of Human skin, confident that it will be every bit as good as this one, especially if the reviews are to be believed. I got this book free courtesy of Bloomsbury Press, as a result of entering a competition on here. So pleased, as I may not have encountered this book otherwise.
From the opening, the story of the Swiney sisters is both strange and wonderful. There are seven of them, growing up in 1860s rural Ireland with a depressed single mother and a mysterious father who the mother claims comes by only once a year in dead of night. The only thing the girls have going for them is hair. Lots and lots of hair, yards of it in a variety of colors. The oldest Swiney, Darcy, is on the hunt for a way out of wretched Harristown and in the abundant Swiney tresses she finds it. Choreographing a few dances and simple songs, Darcy has the sisters’ act end in them letting all that hair down before an increasingly fetishistic—male- public. A manager approaches them, and off they go to Dublin to find fame and fortune as the Swiney Godivas.
Michelle Lovric creates vibrant personalities among the sisters who are as different as their hair colors. Narrated by Manitcory, the red-haired, practical one, the Swiney Godivas ride out swoops of fate, fashion, obsession, and lunacy. There’s something repulsive about all that hair and the responses it evokes. The sisters are always just a hair from being turned into something nasty by nasty people, some of whom are themselves.
The Swiney story is a riff on the Seven Sutherland Sisters of Lockport, New York, who you can Google to see how much hair we’re talking about. “The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters” is full and satisfying, and quirky enough to make me glad that Lovric has a number of other novels to enjoy. I can only hope they stand up to this terrific read.
This ‘splendid’ history is narrated by Manticory Swiney, one of the seven Swiney sisters – Darcy, twins Enda and Berenice, Manticory herself, Oona, Pertilly and Ida. Born in Harristown, Kildare, at the time of the famine, the wonderfully named sisters grow up penniless, fatherless and hungry. Their mother, Annora, is pious and does her best to care for her daughters; while neighbours sneer at her ‘absent husband’, Phelan Swiney, mariner, and even the girls doubt his existence. A multiplicity of fathers is also suggested in the girls colouring – their hair colouring ranges from Darcy’s jet black to Manticory’s red and other sisters have chestnut or blonde locks. What they all certainly have is an abundance – a waterfall – of hair.
When Darcy tires of the grinding poverty of her life, she decides to take matters into her own hands and bullies her sisters into performing on the stage. Watched by her sworn enemy, ‘the Eileen O’Reilly’, who haunts the house like an ‘eighth ghostly sister’, the sisters are forced into some kind of act – with songs and sketches and a grand finale, where all the sisters let down their hair in a cascade. This novel is set during a time when women would always tame their hair – under hats, pinned up and confined – loose, flowing hair was usually own seen by a woman’s husband in the marital bedroom. So, although the girls do perform as an act, it is the finale that people come to see and the girls hair which is the talking point of the show.
In this poetic and beautifully written novel, we follow the Swiney Sisters from local success to fame and fortune. Only, the fortune comes at a price. Darcy, it is clear, is very much in control of the sisters and it is her demands that control their lives. Meanwhile, Mr Augustus Rainfleury and Mr Tristan Stoker appear; offering to aid their career, but also wishing to help themselves. We are taken from Harristown, to Dublin and to Venice, as the sisters have success, personal problems, love affairs and notoriety in an abundance to match their hair.
In this novel the central characters are the sisters themselves; a squabbling set of siblings, who take sides against each other, but who are also secretive and clannish. The speech in this novel is also simply glorious to read. I almost defy anyone not to read this novel and want immediately to visit Ireland (although it was the country where my father was born, so perhaps I am a little biased). However, this is a novel in which it is possible to become totally immersed – the author brings to life that time and those sisters so well that you care completely about what happens to them.
Apparently, this novel was based loosely on the true story of the ‘Seven Sutherland Sisters,’ who were once household names in America. Using their locks to sell hair products, they earned fame and fortune; at one time owning a huge mansion where they lived together. In the same way, the Swiney Sisters of this novel are bound together ; reliant on each other for their fame as a unit. This really is a novel which is almost larger than life and which you feel enriched to have read. A wonderful personal read and also ideal for reading groups, with lots to discuss.
While reading this work of fiction, I had the image of a photograph I had seen online of the seven Sutherland sisters from the same time period and with luxuriantly long hair like the girls in the story. This story inspired me to read up about the American Sutherland sisters of real life and what happened to them. This book is however about the fictional Swiney sisters of Ireland.
I had not read any books by Michelle Lovric before this one, although I have marked her other novel that I have heard of, "The Book Of Human Skin" to read. The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters starts off more or less with seven fatherless girls (Phelan Swiney is a bit of mystery) Annora Swiney, their mother is raising the girls the best she can, although starvation is never far from their door. They live in abject poverty in the sticks of rural Ireland. There is only one thing that really makes them stand out in their village, that they all have long thick hair of varying shades.
Darcy is the eldest sister and runs the household, bullying her mother and sisters to her will. She has a sharp but cruel mind and they all live in degrees of fear of her. There is the local butcher's girl Eileen O'Reilly who only really stands up to Darcy. The story is told through the view point of the only redhead of the family, Manticory, who has talent at writing.
One day Darcy gets it into her head that she can cash in on her, and her sisters long hair and the public's fascination for it (mostly men)and starts taking the reluctant sisters on tour. You can see the vultures starting to circle as they are exploited by unscrupulous men who just want to make a shilling out of them.
Darcy has a secret gambling addiction to feed and holds on the purse strings of their earnings, which amount to a lot of money. They leave their dirt poor roots behind and head for Dublin and riches. Most of the sisters hate the way they earn the money, but they are all trapped by insecurity or fear of their devilish older sister and the contract that binds them.
This is a story that builds slowly and creeps up on you until you can't put it down. But it is worth savouring the words and plot which become increasingly dark and murderous. The author has an interesting section at the end of the book about the Sutherland Sisters (the real long haired goddesses of 19th century America) and how it inspired her.
I could relate to the sisters in so much as the male fascination with long hair that still endures to this day, I have very long hair, no where as near as long as the Swiney/Sutherland sisters, but it does draw male attention for being unusually long in this day and age. (No plans to go on tour with it, lol)
My sympathy is very much for the Swiney sisters in their naivety (except for Darcy) and how they are raised from rags to riches, only to be tossed on the scrap heap of poverty once more and their unbending will to survive. A good read!
Let your hair down and enjoy a tale about seven aberrant sisters and mother Ireland
With names that dance on the reader’s tongue like Oona, Berenice, Enda, Pertilly, Ida, Darcy and Manticory-The True and Splendid History of The Harristown Sisters is a rare gem of a read that is sure to surprise readers. Set in Ireland during the mid and late 19th century this novel first starts in humble and tragic circumstances introducing the reader to a flock of Irish sisters who all share an abundant amount of hair and pleasing voices. Fear of continued poverty, perverse coercion and maltreatment soon forces the Swiney sisters onto stage performing satisfactory songs and dances to a seated audience, it is only when the sisters sit themselves and unfurl their locks that the magic and simple genius of this performance reach the feet and imaginations of the captivated viewers and offers a tempting prospect for the seven Swiney Godivas.
Narrated by one of the sisters, the reader is immediately exposed to the poverty and misery that infested Ireland during this period. The famine during the mid and late 19th century is brought to vivid light complete with all the drudgery and morbid elements while keeping the flow and continuation of the story in mind that the narrator touches on details but never lingers too long to lose the reader in the muck. As the pages turn the writing quickly becomes poetic and the narrator continues in this fashion in a very unique storytelling style that may delight many readers but may annoy others. The gentle reader is warned that graphic passages lurk in these pages (acts of cruelty and depravity directed at animals and humans) that although lends to the harsh reality of the time period may overstep entertainment boundaries for some readers.
The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters may have its foundation in history loosely basing details on the tragic and fascinating story of the real life Sutherland Sisters but the novel also harbors dark tendrils of Gothic elements that interlaces with dark parables and perfectly relevant maladies to create a unique story that will surprise the reader who doubts in this tale of hair. True the main bones of the story consist of an obsession of tresses or mania for long locks and the travels of seven sisters but there is so much more waiting for the brave reader. So let your hair down and enjoy a tale of seven aberrant sisters and mother Ireland with The True and Splendid History of The Harristown Sisters.
*I would like to thank Bloomsbury USA and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and enjoy The True and Splendid History of The Harristown Sisters
If the author had carried on in the same vein as the first third of this book, it would have been overwrought but readable, and even ironically amusing. She did not; instead she opted for "dark, gritty", twisted and finally disgusting...and then she like to kill herself trying to pretty it all up at the end.
Talking of ends, there are "Historical Notes" which basically constitute an explanation/apology for her book. As I have said before, if an author has to explain their purpose, they haven't achieved it. In said Notes, Lovric speaks of the "long forgotten" Seven Sutherland Sisters, whose lives she cannibalised to form the basis of her book. Lovric is old enough to know better, surely, as I am younger than she is and yet I myself remember ads for hair growth products in the back pages of certain magazines, still featuring the Sutherlands and their hair that trailed upon the ground--and that was in the 1960s, not 1917!! Granted the Sisters themselves were history by then, but they were not "forgotten." And, by the way? most of those "Historical Notes" appear to have been lifted bodily from the websites on the subject I looked at last week. And no credit given, either.
I don't actually know why I felt constrained to finish this book. It went on for far too long; by the last 50 pages I was so disgusted that I did a good bit of skimming. She just kept trying to twist the tale another notch, and another, and another until it was ridiculous--and not in a humourous way. It's basically a study of various forms of abuse and dysfunctionality. I don't think I'll be looking out for any more of Lovric's work.
If a book could ever be said to be rambunctious, this one certainly is. These Irish Misses are no shrinking violets and sisterly love isn't bittersweet here, it is divided and violent. I absolutely loved the butchers runt who spent her time with her nose pressed to the window spying on the sisters and their glorious crowns of hair, even if they were often nit infested. Manticory is our narrator and not once does she lose her grip on the reader. About the butcher's runt, Eileen O'Reilly, sworn enemy of devilish sister Darcy, Manticory says 'It was as if she were an eighth, ghostly sister, living on the margins of our scrap of land.' "Darcy was the goose-strangler too, of course." With sentences as biting as the above, you can bet this book will keep you invested in the wild bunch of characters. Another sweetmeat from the story, "I was a termite among the books Miss Finaughty lent me, burrowing through them as if someone were chasing me. I loved a rich phrase if I could find one, and nursed a secret admiration for a finely tuned curse or a well-stacked piece of abuse." Rest assured, there will be a lot of curses and words of abuse spewing from the mouth's of these little ladies. Creepy little dolls made in the girls likeness, black bibles full of blank pages, on stage fights that are too real- what a fantastic read. Every character in the story is so alive you can hear them breathing or feel them spitting in rage. Yes, read it! I think many people are going to love this so much. I am impressed.
Michelle Lovric's The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters is a dark tale. The seven Swiney sisters, born in poverty in rural Harristown, Ireland, spend their days fighting with each other. Black-haired Darcy, the eldest, has them all in fear of her temper and her fists. The brunette twins, Berenice and Enda, hate the mere sight of each other. Red-haired Manticory runs away to the fields to read and write in peace. The youngest three, blonde Oona and brunettes Pertilly and Ida, often get lost in the shuffle—though the sisters agree that Ida is not all she might be. Their mother insists that their father will return someday, but the Swiney sisters are gossiped about throughout the village because of their missing parent and because of their long, abundant hair. Manticory is our narrator as Darcy turns her family into a commercial empire before leading them into ruin in Venice. Lovric's tale is the kind that you know from the beginning will not end without trials and tribulations for everyone...
Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type. I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review consideration.
I was a Michelle Lovric fan from the moment I started reading 'The Book of Human Skin'. Amazing book that lives with me still - years after I first read it! So when I saw this book, I had to read it.
Was I disappointed? Not at all. The Swiney Godivas are quite simply wonderful.
Michelle Lovric really does do characters well. Seven sisters, all completely different in personality, simply jump off the page. You love Manticory, despise Darcy, feel strangely in the middle regards Berenice and Enda. Pertilly, Oona and Ida all have their roles to play and have very different if slightly strange mannerisms. You care what happens to them as they traverse this enforced world of show business.
The setting is incredibly vivid as it was in The Book of Human Skin. You can see the slow-crows of Harristown, hear the Grand Canal lapping at the buildings in Venice.
Quite simply, I loved this book. So much so, that today I was disappointed when I realised I didn't have any more to read.
This book is as complicated, and it's many stories as twisted, as the thick braids sometimes worn by the seven sisters with hair as long as they are tall. The challenge for the reader is to overcome the deficiencies of the narrator: the middle sister, whose self-knowledge is often as limited as her worldly knowledge. The impoverished and uneducated sisters are exploited as a quasi-circus act, and their lack of a guardian causes unscrupulous men to gather around and cause mischief and penury. While there is a happy ending, the sheer weight of the horrors visited upon the sisters, from every conceivable corner of their lives, just makes this a hard book to read. I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.. Had I purchased the book myself, I would not have finished it, I would have stopped after the first 50 pages or so.
I've read this book in several drafts, including the final, and I can safely say that it will be judged to be one of the finest works of literary fiction to be published this year (it comes in June). The language is rich enough to lick and savour like a gourmet meal, the research is impeccable and yet so much a part of the book that you don't notice it's there (the mark of a truly brilliant writer). Above all, the story of Manticory and her sisters grips you by the throat and pulls you along in its wake, gasping. Michelle Lovric is a writer at the height of her powers, and this book is a triumph. Buy, beg, borrow or steal a copy - but at all costs get your hands on one and read it. You won't be disappointed. I predict prizes for this one.
Set in the 1800s, this exuberant romp through the fortunes of seven long-haired sisters from Harristown in County Kildare is an original and thoroughly enjoyable novel, which follows the girls’ incredible rise from abject poverty to riches beyond their wildest dreams, and the inevitable fall that so often follows fame and celebrity. Inspired by the real-life American Sutherland Sisters who made millions from exploiting their hair, the sisters take advantage of their own luxuriant and abundant locks and their talent for the stage, to devise a show that has people flocking in to see them. Rich in imagery, wonderful dialogue, and evocative and atmospheric descriptions, it’s a book that carries the reader along on the headlong journey. Underlying it all, though, is a darker aspect, an element of tragedy and loss, which keeps the story rooted in reality. It is, however a little too long, and has a few less successful sub-plots, but overall it’s a fun and engaging fantastical story that is both absorbing and thought-provoking.
I absolutely could not put this book down. I can't believe that this is the first book I've read by Michelle Lovric, it will definitely not be my last.
The Swiney sisters were amazing characters and they sucked me in immediately. I found their rise to fame spectacular and I loved that they all traveled to Venice. The book oozed Irishness and and matched its time period perfectly. I could not recommend more highly.
Usually, taking this long to read a book would be a bad sign.
Not in this case.
I loved this novel. I found it to be like dark chocolate; intense and rich and full of little surprises. I had to break it down into small chunks to fully appreciate it's complexity and I would highly recommend it.
I am sure we all have read some books that keep stay with you long after you have finished reading it. They surround you, filter your thoughts and makes you want to sit and go over all of it again; as if unravelling a multitude of wrappings until you reach the very core and as each layer falls away, you see something unseen! I was very fortunate in reading two books back to back that gave me similar experience – maybe it’s like my friend Stefanie says, it book karma; but whatever it is I feel extremely fortunate to have read through not one but two such works within a short space of time. The first one of these that I have already discussed is “The Narrow Road to Deep North” by Richard Flanagan – the book was a cathartic experience. The second book which I wanted to share with you today is “The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters” by Michelle Lovric. I had heard a lot of praise about this book from a lot of people, including Jane and my flatmate, and I had bought it long back, but it was only recently, I was able to read it! The book opens in 1850’s Ireland, where in the small town of Harristown in County Kildare, Annora Swinney, a poor laundress is struggling to bring up her seven daughters. The country is still in the grips of last stages of the Potatoes Famine and the Swinney family living a hand to mouth. Despite the pitiful growing conditions, the Swinney sisters grow up with strong personalities and a lot of hair. Each daughter is endowed with long rich tresses of various shades that reach up to their ankles. Darcy the eldest has dark black and is the ruthless bully who threatens storms and beats her sisters into harmony and coordination. The twins Enda and Bernice are both brunettes and that’s where all their similarity ends as they fight and compete with each other for their very existence. The red haired Manticory is the intellectual of the family and it is her voice which guides us through the story! Oona is the blonde and the gentle one of the family, while Pertilly and Ida are the youngest, follow their sisters and are divided into the tribal lines – Enda, Manticory and Ida and Bernice, Oona and Pertilly, with Darcy reigning supreme. As the sisters struggle through their lives, Darcy one day decides to form a show with the seven sisters singing and dancing, showcasing their abundant hair. While the sisters are not sure about the whole enterprise and their mother does not approve at all, the girls start performing and very soon the fame of the hair spreads beyond the borders of Harristown. They are soon accosted by Mr. Rainflerury a doll maker who wants to make the Sweeny dolls and in the bid to market these dolls and their original better, he moves the Sweeny sister’s to Dublin. As more fame and fortune comes rolling in for the Sweeny sisters, do does loss, heartbreak and emotional breakdowns until their eventual fall from riches! This is a beautifully well written sensitive book! The descriptions are harsh, but accurate and the struggles of poverty and of being young unprotected women in a men’s world as described by Ms. Loveric is stripped of all romance. The story line is strong, the plot completely plausible and the pace is breathless and keeps you running page after page. There are lovely descriptions of Venice and the author lovingly details all its splendor and grandeur! But what really holds the book together is the characterization of the sisters; I have rarely ever come across an ensemble where the entire cast is so unique and glitteringly brilliant. Ms. Lovric infuses life, independence and exclusive personality to each of the sisters to make them stand apart from the other. Darcy is mean bully, Manticory the intellectual, Pertilly, the ugly one in a family of beauties, gentle Oona, the constant hatred of the twins and shy and sensitive Ida. As you follow the sisters through their rags to riches and then back to rags story, the reader is subjected the entire spectrum of sisterhood – hatred and love, envy and generosity and while they slowly fall under different influences, they also cling together in their tribaldom. You might not like all of them, you may not even relate to all of them, but you cannot, you simply cannot ignore any one of them. They jump out of the pages of the book and grip your imagination and stay with you even after you have long finished reading it!
Who loves a rags-to-riches story? I do, and this one is a double shot of rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches! Plus, it takes place in Ireland and Venice, is mostly about women with close relationships, and has very distinct characters. Why didn't I give it 4 or 5 stars? I keep asking myself, and I'll wobble by saying I'd give it 3.5 stars if I could.
Just after the potato famine in Ireland, where corpses are still being discovered in far-off fields, lives a mother and 7 daughters. Their father comes to visit so rarely, and comes only at night, leaving before light, that some say he doesn't exist at all. Their mother, religious and long-suffering, doesn't deserve the rumors, yet the daughters keep coming.
The daughters are alike only in that they have extremely long, apparently very strong (for children with so little to eat) hair. This story takes place during a period of time (Pre-Raphaelite) when long hair is much admired by the populace and is a focal point of sexiness for many men.
One of the daughters, Darcy, contrives a way to get them out of their desperate situation. They will sing and dance, and at the end of the "show" will stand on chairs and let down their hair, simultaneously, to its full length, facing away from the audience. Since each sister has a different hair color, it is like a waterfall of hair in a rainbow of shades. They are a huge success and money comes in. They travel and attract attention.
They also attract businessmen who see them as vehicles for selling hair products and dolls. They move to Dublin, then it's on to London and the rest of Europe. They are famous, gradually learning how to cope with it all. From there they have a villa in Venice. No more plot points will be given by me, but there are many and it's a good story.
The descriptions of Venice as well as of the little, dirt-poor village in Ireland are well done. The reader can lose his/herself in the story and the descriptions. I really enjoyed some of the phrases, such as the very Irish, "Curse you, you gobaleen!" and the author was often stunning with something like, "his refrigerating disgust." However, I felt the writing was uneven.
I think what kept me from liking the book more is my probably misguided idea that the girls/women should have been bolder in shaping the serious aspects of their lives. It's hard to believe they were so acquiescent to the stronger wills of others, namely the men who became a part of their lives, and especially the older sister. Yes, women of this "poor class" were cowed by others who were higher in standing and experience, especially males, and eventually they did "grow" into themselves. Many aspects came right in the end. However, a reader in the 21st century might hope for something different. Personally, I was mostly a cowed and obedient female for at least 35 years, but my inside observer was making judgments and asking questions, rebellion building. Eventually I stood on my own feet and thought with my own mind. Despite being made "stupid" by love (and I remember that blindness, too) it seemed to me that the sisters would have been fomenting rebellion earlier, at least within or among themselves.
There was a family of sisters, the Sutherlands, in the USA who also were famous for their hair... the author cites them as a source of inspiration for the story.
It's a very good read! There is lots of history to authenticate the novel's details. I think I've read so many excellent, 4 and 5-star books recently that I can't give this one equal stars. (The Red Tent, All the Light We Cannot See, Life After Life)
Manticory Swiney and her six sisters are born into poverty in rural 19th century Ireland and brought up by their mother, a laundress. They have never known their father (he visits once a year in the middle of the night) but from him they have inherited some very special gifts: their wonderful names and the abundance of long, thick hair which proves to be their route to fame and fortune. Bullied by the eldest sister, Darcy, into performing on the stage, the girls entertain their audiences by singing, dancing and, as a finale, unleashing their luxuriant cascades of ankle-length hair.
Approached by Augustus Rainfleury and Tristan Stoker, both of whom can see the money-making potential of seven long-haired sisters, the 'Swiney Godivas' leave their impoverished Harristown lives behind to find success in first Dublin then Venice. But for black-haired, sharp-tongued Darcy, the rival twins Berenice and Enda, quiet Pertilly, gentle, blonde Oona, wild Idolatry and our narrator, red-haired Manticory, fame doesn't necessarily bring happiness.
I loved this book, the first I've read by Michelle Lovric, and I would agree that it really is a 'splendid history'. It's not quite a true one – Manticory and her sisters are fictional – but it was inspired by the story of the real-life Sutherland Sisters, an American family who really did become celebrities due to their long hair. If you have trouble imagining what seven sisters all with floor-length hair would look like, lots of pictures of the Seven Sutherland Sisters can be found online.
With so many Swineys to get to know, I was pleased to find that each sister is given a strong and distinctive personality of her own. I liked some of the girls and disliked others, but they were all great to read about, particularly the fierce, devilish Darcy who takes control of every scene in which she appears. One of my favourite characters, though, was not a Swiney sister at all, but their childhood enemy, Eileen O'Reilly (or the Eileen O'Reilly as she is always described) who enjoys exchanging very imaginative insults with Darcy – and who claims to hate the Swineys yet can't seem to stay away from them.
Manticory herself has a wonderful narrative voice: strong, poetic and unmistakably 'Irish'. She manages to bring a lot of humour into her 'true and splendid history' but it's really a very dark story. There's a vulnerability about the sisters, even Darcy, in that they are manipulated and taken advantage of by ruthless businessmen and men who are...well, attracted to girls with long hair. The Swineys are betrayed and exploited by the very people they have placed their trust in and what makes this even more tragic is that the reader can see this from the beginning while the sisters can't.
Finally, I want to mention the excellent descriptive writing in this book. Every time Manticory thinks of her childhood in Harristown, County Kildare, she remembers the 'turf stoves, thin geese and slow crows' until Harristown becomes almost a character in itself. Later in the book, the descriptions of Venice are particularly beautiful. I loved the images of the girls hanging their hair from the windows of the bell tower of San Vidal like seven Rapunzels and each of them standing in the bow of a gondola with her hair trailing into the boat behind. I could tell this book was written by someone who knows and loves Venice!
The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters is one of my favourite books of the year so far and I'm now looking forward to investigating Michelle Lovric's previous novels.
I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley Rating=3.5 The story of the Swiney sisters begins in rural Ireland in the 19th century during the famine. Like many others during that time, the 7 Swiney sisters live in abject poverty with their mother and they have never met their father. The first part of the book chronicles their lives as they scrape out a bare existence, attend school, and have typical and, sometimes not-so-typical, sibling fights. Their most prominent feature is their extremely long and thick hair and the eldest sister, Darcy, realizes that they can make some money by performing a variety show with singing, dancing and skits. At the end of each show the sisters walk on stage and unravel their hair for all to see. Men are especially attracted to this site who, in the 19th century, are usually only allowed to see such sprawling tresses in the intimacy of the bedroom.
As the shows and the reputation of their hair grows in popularity, the sisters take on two business partners, Rainfleury and Stoker, who make the sisters rich beyond their wildest imaginations. But, as is evident from the beginning of their acquaintances with these gentlemen, they are taking advantages of the sisters and exploiting them. The story comes full-circle when, in the end, they become almost as poor as they were when they were children.
This book is a wonderful and heart-wrenching story of the survival of these sisters during a time when all of Ireland is suffering. Throughout it all they always stay together as a family, experiencing marriages, deaths, births, betrayals, affairs, and more. The authors greatest strength is the ability to weave a tale as long, elaborate and unique as the Swiney sisters’ hair.
There were parts, however, that I found the author belabored over a bit too much. For example, the fighting and sibling rivalry could have been portrayed just as poignantly in about 20 fewer pages. The affair between Manticory and Alexander, a Venetian artist, also felt very drawn out at times.
Overall, this was an entertaining read and I highly recommend it for the lovers of historical fiction who especially appreciate the setting of 19th Century Ireland. This is a very unique book.
I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.
The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters is a historical fictional story set in the 1860s and 70s by the novelist Michelle Lovric. Based loosely on the lives of the Sutherland Sisters of New York, it tells the story of seven sisters with unreasonably long hair: over forty feet when combined together.
The novel begins in Harristown, County Kildare, Ireland and is narrated by the middle sister, Manticory Swiney who recounts their lives over a period of thirteen years starting from when Manticory is, in fact, thirteen and her sisters range in age between nineteen and nine.
As mentioned, this novel is about hair. Manticory refers to a time when a man assaulted her as a result of her long red hair. This prompted evil, older sister, Darcy to scheme money making plans using their hair. Naming themselves the ‘The Swiney Godivas’ the sisters took to the stage performing and singing. But the highlight of the show, and something which the men lusted over, was the grand finale where they let down their hair to show off its full length.
Their performances attract the likes of Mr Rainfleury and Tristan Stoker, who wish to use the girls as a means of producing vast amounts of money. Coming from a poor family, Darcy is keen to go along with these plans, and so off they all go to Dublin where their fame increases. With hair products and dolls made to their likenesses they become well known all over Ireland and eventually spread in to Europe. Eventually the girls settle in Venice, however their luck with fame, and more importantly, money, may be about to run out.
Since the attack on Manticory at such a young age, she has distrusted men and their motives, particularly in connection with hair. That is until she meets the quiet Mr. Sardou, a man she finds herself craving to please.
With a hint of romance, this story is beautifully written and humorous as the sisters continue to bicker and insult each other even once they reach adulthood. Overall it is a superb, grippingly addictive read.
Lovric possesses a wonderful gift of language. Her prose is stunning. She also has a talent for witty banter as we soon discover with the sisters insistent bickering. Loosely based on the Seven Sutherland Sisters nonfictional story, we find Lovric’s version highly entertaining with a sharp gothic edge. Very clever, dark, humorous and touches of romance all blending nicely to create a fascinating character driven plot. The sisters are constantly at war, enjoyable at first but after a length it quickly turns to annoying, however, you understand their severe squabbling as the ending approaches, making it all fall neatly into place. Despite the fiction between the sisters, they are entangled together dependent on each other for fame and fortune, success avail as only a team. Darcy the brutal domineering, money-grubbing leader bullies the clan while allowing for outsiders to promote and take advantage of the sisters, eventually the consequences catch up and its dues ensue. Parts are outlandish leaning towards a dark fair tale feel, although the hair premise keeps you focused as well as the very individual sisters with their trials and tribulations. Well crafted somewhat enthralling read. Lovric’s writing is outstanding, making the reading adventure worthwhile. Memorable tale.
I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway and when it arrived on my doorstep I though "that is going to take me ages to read".You see it is quite a wedge of a book and is quite heavy, but you know what, it didnt take me long at all once Id read the first chapter I was hooked! This book would make a cracking film! A story about seven sisters "The Swiney Sisters", Darcy, Edna and Berenice (twins),Manticory,Oona, Pertilly and Ida all who start off very poor living with their mother in Harristown and find their selves on the road to fame and fortune due to their unusually hair. The story lays out the relationship between each of the sisters which is no means lace and fairy's, sometimes their actions towards each other are very cruel and hurtful but that just makes you want to read on to find the outcome of their actions. There are many ups, down , twists and turns in this book and some may shock you which made the book so hard to put down. I would thoroughly recommend this book Michelle Lovric is a great story teller and I think I may give her other books ago.