In Love and War - A Novel of Ireland
Very rarely have I read a romance novel that has so much to “say” about a historical period. Suzanne Barrett’s work, In Love and War (Turquoise Morning Press), manages this in a way that is informative and gripping, yet so skillfully understated that the love story is what sent me to bed (where I read) each night with the book clutched in my hands.
The story involves a war-shattered TV foreign correspondent/journalist of Irish descent, Quinn Lawlor, who comes to a small village near Waterford, in Ireland, to heal his wounds - both physical and emotional - and to write a book. There he meets my all-time favorite heroine, Meaghann Power, a not-so-young woman who has inherited a dairy farm which she struggles to operate on her own. She is a rare combination of down-to-earth, no-nonsense practicality and sensitivity - a mature woman who yearns for love. Meaghann feels love and loyalty for her family, but when Quinn arrives, this wars with her hunger for emotional/physical connection of her own.
Meaghann makes cheese and sells it to sustain herself and keep the land. While not detracting from the growing passion between Quinn and Meaghann, the specific details about cheese-making are fascinating in themselves. [Ms. Barrett displays a fine empathy for the “working” heroine, whether in cheese-making or wine-producing: her previous novel, Late Harvest, which is about wine-making, showed a similar depth in research and subtle intertwining of a woman’s personal struggle into a page-turning story.]
Quinn opposes violence as a political solution because of what he has seen and endured as a journalist. However, he begins to dig around in the history of the small village for material to use in his book and thus uncovers Meaghann’s family connection with “the Troubles” of Ireland’s past. Quinn also discovers Meaghann’s more personal and current political involvement - and this is what he cannot abide.
“The Troubles” permeate the historical background of Barrett’s work and also form the subtext of the intense relationship between Quinn and Meaghann. This novel has everything - a classic, old-fashioned love story between two unique and admirable characters; wonderfully evocative word-pictures of the Irish village and countryside; skillful rendering of the emotional tenor of the area, the characters, and the times; and an admirable heroine to pull for.
I love novels that feel so real I am actually aching for the characters. I go to sleep worrying about Quinn and Meaghann and hoping for the best ... and the next night the tension, and the passion, mount even higher. When I finished In Love and War, I smiled all day long!
Comment from one reviewer: “In Love and War takes place in a country where legend is based in reality, and reality is often romanticized in prose, poetry, and song. I am an Irish-American woman who was raised on stirring songs of rebellion. In Love and War made me set aside my own romantic ideas and reexamine those shades of gray we so often overlook.” (Margaret Ethridge for Goodreads)
And another: “Occasionally, a romantic novel will catch my attention because it sounds refreshingly different... In Love and War by Suzanne Barrett is one such book.” (CarolAnn for Romance Reviews)
Highly, highly recommended.