“Siúil a Rún” by Siobhán Béabhar

Oh, Irish, you language of despair. I took one look at this title/author combo and decided just to copy and paste it instead of trying to convince WordPress to put the accents in for me. I’ve just about mastered them in Microsoft Word (my dissertation necessitated that), but in a browser they’re a bit tricky.

siuil-a-run

Publication date: November 15th, 2016

So, as you may have guessed, this book is also Irish. And also gay. Ta-daaa, it’s basically my degree! Except more modern, because it’s set in the twentieth century, which is very much not what my degree is about.

I’m rambling. Let’s got on with this.

But one last digression! ‘Siúil a Rún’, for those who don’t know, is a line from a very famous Irish song, popularised by Clannad and Lord of the Dance and all those other staples of Irish musical tradition. It means walk my love, (or possibly go my love, which fits better contextually here), and because seven years ago I predicted the necessity of such a thing, I created a YouTube video of the Clannad version with the lyrics. (My younger self had too much free time and unfettered access to Windows Live Movie Maker, okay?)

It was gay, which obviously I liked. It’s historical lesbian fiction, so obviously you would expect that, but sometimes people miss that in blurbs because they’re unobservant. This is the story of two women, Kady (short for Caitriona except with a bunch of accents over the letters because Irish does that) and Grainne, whose affection for each other get them both into rather a lot of trouble. So they’re sent away from home, one to Dublin and the other to America.

But it wasn’t as gay as it might have been. Which is to say that after they’re sent away from home, we’re hearing a lot about these two women, and about their affection for each other, but we don’t actually get to see them together. Their relationship doesn’t get the chance to thrive, so we don’t get to see them as a couple. I’d sort of hoped we would.

There are some other ambiguously queer characters! And there’s one very interesting moment where Kady has a brief fling with this guy, who somewhat enigmatically states, “I’m not a boy” — but then this is never explained. Was he just trying to say that he was a man, and so far she’d only known immature guys? Or was he actually a girl in disguise, or a non-binary person? Because I was totally down for those explanations, and they totally would have worked with the rest of the story and with the character, but this was literally never followed up or explained, so I guess that theory will have to stay in my head.

It’s historical, though relatively recent by my standards. It’s set in the early twentieth century, which means it deals with WWI, the suffragettes, and the Easter Rising as well as other aspects of Irish history at the time. I did think it was a good thing that when exploring Kady’s involvement with the suffragettes in America, the author (whose name I’m not going to attempt to spell from memory) didn’t gloss over the racism or classism that affected the movement. I also liked that by getting involved in politics, Kady became much more self-assured and confident as a woman, which allowed for a fair bit of growth on her part. However, some parts of the historical setting were less cheerful — war and uprisings tend to result in death, and some of them in this book are astonishingly sudden and violent in a way I wasn’t expecting.

Ultimately, the book doesn’t really have a happy ending. I mean, look on the bright side, it made it onto my Goodreads “unbury your queers” shelf, which means that the gay characters didn’t die. And that often feels like an achievement in fiction these days. But the ending still left me feeling rather sad, and I’d hoped it could have been a more hopeful story. It’s hard to talk too much about this without spoiling it, but it wasn’t quite what I was looking for (even if that’s more about me than the book).

The book’s longer than a lot of those I’ve been reading lately. So it took me a couple of nights to read, instead of just one, and I stayed up until about half four after packing my stuff to go home from uni because I wanted to finish it off. This is a life choice I regret. I mean, yay that the story had enough sway over me to make me do that, I guess? But there was still regret. At this rate I’ll never learn to be less nocturnal.

So, this is gay, and Irish, and those are both things that I appreciate. However, it made me a bit sad, and it wasn’t as gay as I might have hoped. Probably a 3.5 stars, but I’m going to rate it down for making me sad.

 Rating: ***
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2 thoughts on ““Siúil a Rún” by Siobhán Béabhar

  1. Phoebe Cristina says:

    Just read this, having run across it on Early Bird Books I believe it was, or one of those book deals sites that I subscribe to. Anyway my sentiments exactly: I kept hoping and expecting Kady and Gráinne to end up back together so was also sad when it abruptly ended like it did. I suppose being the early 20th century and especially in sexually repressed Ireland that had been too much to hope for even being that the book was fiction! Nevertheless I love historical fiction, anything Irish and gay women’s fiction when it is well written as this book is. So I certainly enjoyed it though I wondered about the author’s one line of Irish which was gramatically incorrect–she wrote ‘Tráthnóna maith agat’ which should have read ‘Tráthnóna mhaith agaibh’, and also the fact that she writes completely in American English mystified me given her name (of course it could be a pen name). Then I read her bio and found out she isn’t Irish, she’s from California!
    Anyway I enjoyed your video also. ☘🇮🇪

    • Miriam Joy says:

      Thanks for your comment! My knowledge of Irish is pitiful, so I didn’t notice the grammatical error; that’s a shame. Irish gets used so rarely in books, you’d think they could get it right when it is! Like you, I’d assumed from the name that she was Irish.

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