Eilís Dillon
Across the Bitter Sea

Political Reviews

The land encircling old Galway, and the people on it and their talk and customs. all come beautifully alive in Eilís Dillon's lucid, restful prose.

The story is glossed, you might call it, by sharply-observed details of ordinary life that are not often among the stock-in-trade of the chronicle novel and that give this book an added dimension. Or to put it like this: the novelist knows well the city, the countryside and the people she writes about and she has also made a very thorough job of her historical homework.
Eilís Dillon, as I've more or less said, knows her Galway, past and present, down to the simplest details of country life and love, and it is moments like this that give the book an excellent quality:
Yeats in his great 1916 poem was asking questions that neither he nor anybody else has satisfactorily answered, and it may not be quite playing the game to use another poem of his, a dramatic dialogue, as evocative fly-leaf material.

The murders (in the novel) of old George and his son seem singularly bloodless. The longest novel must wind somewhere safe to sea, yet to talk nowadays of watering rosetrees with our own red blood must remind us bitterly that the heroes of our own time (some of whom have heard of Connolly and Pearse) fill their watering-cans with the blood of other and innocent people and scatter it broadcast.

This is not a comment on the novel as a novel and Eilís Dillon is as well aware of all these things as I am. Yet her ample book, coming at this time does raise these and other questions and that, indeed, may be another of its interesting qualities.

Benedict Kiely, from "A Galway Chronicle", in the Irish Times

"Across the Bitter Sea" is a new novel by the Irish writer Eilís Dillon, recently published by Hodder and Stoughton.

It is a long and passionate story, featuring Alice, a woman who loves and is deeply loved by two very different men. They live out their turbulent story against a background no less turbulent - Ireland in the second half of the nineteenth century, and up until the founding of the present Irish State in 1916.

It is a graphic and searing picture of life for the poor people of Ireland, in that time of famine and revolt. There are rich and heartless landlords, though not all of them are ruthless, and there are the passionate, death-defying struggles of the hot-blooded Irish Nationalists, all convincingly portrayed.

Eilís Dillon knows her Irish history intimately and loves her country and compatriots with all the fervour of a true Irishwoman. Hence her story comes to life with really colourful authenticity. It is a fascinating story and though in fact a novel, its closeness to reality provides for Englishmen a compelling insight into some of the historical motivations and inherent characteristics of many of the combatants in the current political turmoil in Ireland.

There is the simple, but undeniable, truth of this basic fact revealed for all to see in this impressive novel: The Irish are very, very Irish and likely to remain so.

Auckland Chronicle

Throughout the novel the reader is never allowed to forget that an ancient culture is being destroyed by poverty, brutal re-education and persecution of such viciousness that people on this side of the "bitter sea" almost lack a vocabulary to respond adequately to a retelling of it.

From "The passion and the glory", in the Times Literary Supplement

Back to the top of this page
Back to Eilís Dillon Life & works
Back to Eilís Dillon Education & Research
Back to "Across the Bitter Sea"

Exit to the Eilís Dillon Irish Writing Pages

Page maintained by Eilís Dillon Literary Estate.
All material in these pages is copyright, and may not be reproduced for commercial purposes without written permission.