Some books encapsulate your thought process and imagination with such precision through their striking words and language that soon that novel is all you can think about. Ciaran Mcmenamin’s The Sunken Road will be at the top of that list.
The story begins with Francie Leonard, who is on the run from the Britishers who are eagerly searching for him. A protestant who previously fought alongside the British Army in the Great War and is currently a member of the IRA, he desperately needs to cross the border and in the process of hiding, out of the blue comes Annie, his young Catholic friend Archie’s sister, and his romantic interest with whom he has had no contact for the past six years. Upon seeing her, a sudden rush of memories engulf him, taking him back to the Irish town of Fermanagh where their lives were simple, trouble-free, and untied by the thread of church. Yet it all changes when Archie enlists in the British army during the war. Francie doesn’t have any personal loyalty to the British but having read wartime stories of adventure and valor he decides to go with Archie, that and his pledge to Annie to bring Archie home safely. But as destiny plays out, Francie survives the war and returns but without Archie. What happened during the war which led Archie to join hands with Republicans, fighting for a free, united Ireland, and why couldn’t he meet Annie all these years. The journey that follows is a master of conflicting moral choices, betrayal, the effects of war and its impact on countless men and women, love, and the loss of a loved one.
Throughout his escape along with Anne, he is chased along by Inspector Crozier whose history with Francie dates back as far as 1916 when the Inspector was in charge of the Irish battalion fighting in the war. Inspector Crozier can at best be described as a man hell-bent on exacting revenge from Francie by killing him and thus burying the secret forever that only he knows. What transpired during the spring of 1916 in the muddy trenches that led the two men from fighting together against the enemy and by the end of the war becoming one. You can’t help but loathe Inspector Crozier for his actions and the man who is the least bit sorry about it but at times when the author delves the reader into the past, you can’t stop yourself from feeling vulnerable for his previous life and sorrow at what the man has become. The author thus throughout the story tries to help the reader recognize that not every man was born evil, ugly but the circumstances and partly the choices that you make shape you into the person that you are. We feel contrasting emotions throughout the novel, disgust at Inspector Crozier, admiration for Francie for what he endured during the war, amazement at Anne’s maturity, and regret over the impossible love of Francie and Anne. The author also has done a successful job in setting the perfect landscape, by describing the countryside of Ireland, the author has cleverly tried to depict the contrasting lives of people that are living in it whose own lives seem so chaotic and tumultuous in comparison to the peaceful and undisturbed island of theirs.
But more than that the novel is about the psychological effects of war and how seemingly three friends’ gleeful lives completely change for the worse. The characters of Anne and Archie’s mother and the Yankee they meet during their hiding might have little mention in the novel but it is enough for the reader to look back on them. The author has mentioned the importance of religion in 1920s Ireland but I wish he would have elaborated more on the North-South division and the aspect of Catholicism vs. Protestantism which was a major factor in the history of Ireland and the 1921 Anglo-Irish treaty. The author
But all these aspects can’t seem to lessen the impact that the novel has on a reader. The phrase, ‘Calm your mind and your body will follow’, used in the novel might seem trivial at the beginning but only at the end do these words hit you with such sheer force that there is a possibility of shedding a few tears by the time you reach the end. The novel is a masterpiece in writing to say the least and highly recommended.
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