Where to begin to review The January Flower by Orla Broderick? Broderick has written a hymn to the life of her “little snowdrop,” her daughter, and a hymn to a sort of traveller life on the Isle of Skye.
It is full of the most lyrical and beautiful prose – Irish prose – not Scottish. The Hi-Arts Council embraces her and she did study at Moniack Mhór, but I claim her for the Irish. One friend has compared her to Dylan Thomas. I said to that friend after hearing Broderick’s recording of “The Lost Chapter” that a tick will never again be just a tick.
The protagonist, Mary, desires with a fierce single-mindedness to escape her dreary council house (subsidized housing for her U.S. readers), and neighborhood, populated by snarling tenants and drug abusers. She wants a better life for her snow drop, her Angel. To that end, she seduces a kilt-wearing Dutch man (the antagonist) one afternoon and the long journey back to her own mother and her roots begins. Along the way, she got far more (or less) than she bargained for: lost her daughter, lost herself. She meets Gertrude (mother of Walter and Winne) and Elsie who “had husbands and children but discarded them, left all that life for the sake of a dream. Kith and kin were forsaken for boggy tracts of land and sweet solitude. Their devotion to Mother Earth is their vocation. They know the old ways and yet they see far into the future.” Mary lives in a caravan and sips dew from spider webs and dances in the moonlight. You will hear Woof, their dog. You will smell the kelp. You will see the sea birds soar high and far. You will sense the fairies and learn of the giants that once peopled the Isles. You will meet the fairies who live in the rocks.
The Ancestors are ever-present. Broderick has done something unusual in modern literature. She has created the duality of the deities and humans, akin to those in the Odyssey in a strange way. She has written of the same xenia, a Greek concept encompassing the generosity and courtesy shown to those who are far from home. She evokes the Tuatha Dé Danann who came from heaven, landing in a dense cloud upon the coast of Ireland. She sees Danú not Cassiopeia in the stars. Her Mary lives in a dual world somewhere between the bright light of heaven and the prosaic gritty sands of earth.
She tells her Angel:
“Irky and Oompi were lovers. They sat in the sky and shone for each other. Centuries of smiling light, night after night. Side by side they glittered. One night a fast comet came and knocked them apart. They fell out of their orbit and away from each other. Down down down they fell to Earth. Their lights were shattered. Scattered a hundred million times all over this planet. Tiny shards of the brightest sparks fell into the people and the animals. Each one of us has a tiny piece of a star inside, to help us glow. We come from Light, my Angel. We Love and we love forever and ever. I will love you for centuries and even when we are apart I will love you. Moon, stars and fire bounce off ancient rock.”
So this is an Odyssey, a woman’s odyssey, and like Odysseus, Mary ends up where she started: in the arms of her own mammy, scarred but wiser for her journey. One woman faces the goddesses and finds her way home.
You can hear her read via SoundCloud http:/soundcloud.com/council-house-publishing/the-january-flower-orla in a voice as low and resonant as the sea and her story of Drumlie Dub will wash over you.