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Review: The Rising Tide, by Molly Keane

Pages: 320

Original date of publication: 1937

My edition: 1990 (Virago Modern Classics)

Why I decided to read: came across this on Ebay

How I acquired my copy: Ebay, May 2010

The Rising Tide is my first foray into reading Molly Keane’s novels. It’s the story of a family, the French-McGraths, who live in a crumbling, Gothic house in Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century. Garonlea is the home to Ambrose and lady Charlotte French-McGrath and their five children. When their son, Desmond, marries Cynthia, the French-McGraths’ lives are changed—sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

I’ve never read anything by Molly Keane before, and I wonder why I’ve never heard of her before randomly buying this off of ebay a couple of months ago (strange how chance works). I loved the atmosphere of this book and the almost sinister atmosphere of the house (I have to love any book with a house like Garonlea in it).

What I love about the characters of this novel is that there are no extremes, but everyone is completely different: you have the sister who breaks away from the family (to a degree) by becoming pregnant, and the daughter who leaves home to live with her brother and sister in law. Lady Charlotte, although a tyrant, is not a caricature; and Cynthia, the life of the party, has a deeper side to her. The character I felt the most sorry for out of all of the family was Ambrose, the father, who suffers under the delusion that his wife is wonderful. I loved all of the characters, despite their flaws, and that to me is the sign of a great novel. I really cared about and wanted to get to more all of these people, even Cynthia with her drinking, partying, and men friends, and forcing her children to hunt although they’d rather be reading.

The theme of the passage of time is especially strong, leading to an interesting reflection on how much these characters change—or don’t—throughout this extremely well-written novel. Because the book takes place between the years of 1900 and the 1920s, when so much change took place in the world, this theme is particularly brought home to the reader. I’m off to look for more books by Molly Keane, as I absolutely fell in love with her writing style.


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