Monday, January 14, 2019

#BookReview: Irish Above All: A Novel by Mary Pat Kelly

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Mary Pat Kelly draws upon family heritage to continue the story of Nora Kelly--begun in Of Irish Blood--with a striking novel of historical fiction in Irish Above All.

After ten years in Paris, where she learned photography and became part of the movement that invented modern art, Chicago-born, Irish-American Nora Kelly is at last returning home. Her skill as a photographer will help her cousin Ed Kelly in his rise to Mayor of Chicago. But when she captures the moment an assassin’s bullet narrowly misses President-elect Franklin Roosevelt and strikes Anton Cermak in February 1933, she enters a world of international intrigue and danger.

Now, she must balance family obligations against her encounters with larger-than-life historical characters, such as Joseph Kennedy, Big Bill Thompson, Al Capone, Mussolini, and the circle of women who surround F.D.R. Nora moves through the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, and World War II, but it’s her unexpected trip to Ireland that transforms her life.

Before I get too far ahead of myself, I want to note I tackled Irish Above All: A Novel by Mary Pat Kelly as a buddy read with one of my favorite fellow book bloggers. Magdalena reviews books at A Bookaholic Swede. If you haven’t done so already, I recommend checking her site out. She’s a prolific reader and has a vast catalog of honest reviews spanning a variety of genres.

Getting into the novel at hand, I want to say that I wanted to like Mary Pat Kelly’s Irish Above All, but I am afraid the book and I proved a poor fit. I managed to read 63% before I resorted to skimming the text and ultimately felt the narrative too much work for too little return.

The novel is the better part of six hundred pages long, most of which is dedicated to a who’s who of headlining twentieth-century personalities. Al Capone, John F. Kennedy, Nancy Reagan (nee Davis), Eleanor Roosevelt, Sally Rand… Kelly fits so many references that the novel felt like nonfiction. I appreciate the attention to detail, but I can’t help feeling the name dropping eclipsed the novel’s heroine and distracted from the story.

The wealth of information often caused me to lose track of the plot, and I confess that I had to circle back several times to reacquaint myself with the details of Nora’s relationships and the course of her experiences. Keeping track of the story amid so much superfluous exposition was mentally taxing, but Kelly tends to tell more than she shows, and that made it difficult for me to connect with her cast or care how their journeys played out.

At the end of the day, I think Kelly has an excellent eye for subject matter, but Irish Above All didn’t speak to my tastes.

Rating: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 10, 2019

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