Bury the Living – Jodi McIsaac

I approached Jodi McIsaac’s novel Bury the Living (review copy from 47 North through NetGalley) with a high degree of trepidation. Anyone that knows my academic and professional background will know why a time travel novel set during the Irish Civil War would be a risky proposition. And, at risk of damning it with faint praise, the book was nowhere near as bad as I had been fearing  
The story follows Nora O’Reilly, an aid worker from Belfast, who is also a former member of the IRA. She returns home for the funeral of a former IRA colleague, before following a mysterious dream summons to Kildare, where she is told to seek out Brigid. She meets a woman from a mysterious sect called the Brigidine sisters and finds herself sent back in time to help the man she saw in her dreams. She finds him, but he refuses her help, and with no clear sense of what her purpose is, Nora sets out to avert the Partition of Ireland in an attempt to prevent the death of her brother during the Troubles.  While the details of Nora’s childhood explain how she would become a member of the IRA, I wasn’t convinced that an aid worker who had subsequently experienced the human impact and aftermath of violence and civil war would remain so fanatically and unquestioningly wedded to the republican cause. The guilt she clearly feels at the death of her brother was not enough of a motivation for me. I would have hoped, at least, for a little more inner conflict within Nora on the issue. The Civil War setting, itself one of the most difficult and contested parts of Irish history would have presented the perfect opportunity to interrogate ideas of nationalism and their human impact. But apart from a few stray references to differences of opinion, there is no real effort to examine issues of ideology. For example, when Nora’s friend chooses to go on hunger strike for the cause, Nora’s main concern seems to be founded on her knowledge from the future that such strikes make no difference to the success of the cause.  

The novel’s use of mythology feels like a slightly clunky overlay to the story. It falls into the trap of being Oirish at times and no explanation was given as to how or why Nora should be the one to get mixed up in the events of the book.  

This is the first in a series of books, which will no doubt see Nora visit other key points of Irish history. But I won’t be seeking out the sequels.

Goodreads rating: 2*

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