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The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  425 ratings  ·  112 reviews
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
Hardcover, UK Hardback 2014, 466 pages
Published June 5th 2014 by Bloomsbury UK (first published 2014)
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Average rating 3.65  · 
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 ·  425 ratings  ·  112 reviews

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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 th ...more
Mar 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 Irelan
Jun 01, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: ireland
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 d
Jun 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 eldes
Jun 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Maya Panika
Aug 27, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Apr 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 hair ...more
May 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Elspeth G. Perkin
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
Lolly K Dandeneau
Apr 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 en ...more
Jul 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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, of ...more
Apr 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 05, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: first-reads
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. Whi ...more
Lucy Coats
Apr 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Jul 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
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 lo ...more
Apr 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.

I received this book as a GoodReads First Reads.
Victoria Jane
Jun 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Lorraine Lipman
Jan 11, 2015 rated it liked it
What a bizarre story! Couldn't wait to get to the end to see how it was going to finish up! Will definitely read another book by this author. A great holiday read!
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Enjoyable tale. A bit slow through the middle of the book but well written and an interesting story.
Jan 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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 ex ...more
Donna LaValley
Feb 14, 2015 rated it liked 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
Apr 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 sing ...more
Angela Smith
Aug 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical
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
I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley
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 promi
Apr 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, first-reads
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
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
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'
May 23, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016, hfrc-2016
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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
Vicky Edwards
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 f
Linda Kelly
Feb 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Won this in a first reads giveaway. Would give it six stars if I could Highly recommend it. Didn't think Michelle Lovric could better The Book of Human Skin but she has!
Jesse Patton
Apr 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed it. Little slow in the middle, but great writing and a really interesting story.
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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 l

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