Book Review by Georgia Francis
The Largest Baby in Ireland After the Famine
Author Anne Barnett grew up in a farming community just outside Belfast and draws upon this experience for The Largest Baby in Ireland After the Famine – a tale of love across the religious divide.
Felix Campbell is a Protestant farmer and a committed bachelor – he considers himself above the ‘likes of women and marriage’. That is, until Sarah-Ann, all colour and sway, marches across his dowdy path. Enchanted by her from the briefest of meetings Felix is eager to learn more about this ‘stranger woman’ who seems to invade his every waking thought as well as his dreams.
Sarah-Ann, a Catholic woman having lost her husband and raised a family of fourteen, feels that love has now passed her by. However, a chance second meeting with a drunken Felix lights that lost spark, and she too, can’t deny her attraction.
The budding relationship between a Protestant supposedly set in his ways and this Catholic woman with a colourful past triggers gossip and desires amongst the Protestant community and is a cause for all sorts of unexpected events.
Anne Barnett has written a truly honest and unsentimental account of a powerful love that attempts to defy the natural order of a settled community with differing religious beliefs.
Each of the characters is compelling, engaging and even comical. From the first page, Anne Barnett conveys wonderfully the surprise that Felix gradually feels of discovering that he is capable of such passionate emotions for another. Fighting for a place in patriarchal Ireland, Sarah-Ann’s character is full of life – bold and bright, strong and ambitious, striving for her independence; she is an iconic female role within a beautifully historical piece of fiction.
This is a slow burning love story told through a third person narration, with subtle and smooth transitions into the lives of each character. It offers a wonderful insight, with beautiful descriptions into life in rural Ireland right around the time of World War 1 and depicting this important turning point in Irish History.
Maybe the story runs along a little too slowly, but it continues to be moving. I was generally surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. To me it seems that The Largest Baby in Ireland After the Famine with its gentle blend of history and romance is a perfect bedtime read.