Tuesday, July 1, 2008

An Irish Country Doctor/An Irish Country Village

by Patrick Taylor
Published by Forge
Review by Nancy Horner

There were two characteristics in the description of An Irish Country Village that appealed to me when I found out a copy was available for review. First, the word “Irish”. I tend to love Irish storytelling and was in the mood to take an armchair trip to Ireland. Second, the comparison to series books such as those written by Jan Karon and James Herriot. I haven’t read anything at all by Karon, but I know both authors are known for their gentle stories of life with a unique cast of characters who live and work in a small village. As often as possible, I try to avoid harsh language, overt sexuality and violence, so the book sounded like my cup of tea. And, I adore Herriot’s books.

An Irish Country Village is the second in a series of books about two doctors working in Ballybucklebo, a small village in Northern Ireland. Set during the 1960s, the story takes up where An Irish Country Doctor left off, with young doctor Barry Laverty beginning his assistantship under the blustery Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly. In the previous book, Dr. Laverty made a mistake that is coming back to potentially haunt him.

I read about 50 pages of An Irish Country Village before realizing that I simply didn’t have a grip on the characters. What kind of interaction went on between them in the beginning? What was their history, together and as individuals? What exactly were the details of the error Laverty made in the first book? The book might stand alone okay, but not extremely well. I needed to understand where they were coming from in order to comprehend the emotions and interactions within the novel. So, I set An Irish Country Village aside and checked out An Irish Country Doctor from my local library.

Ah, that did it. An Irish Country Doctor begins, so to speak, at the beginning, as Dr. Laverty tries locate the village and has to ask directions from a young man on a bicycle, a fellow for whom the information that Laverty is going to work for Dr. O’Reilly prompts a strange reaction. Is Dr. O’Reilly frightening? Dangerous? What did that look of fear and possibly respect that crossed the cyclist’s face mean? I was hooked immediately.

As An Irish Country Doctor progresses, the reader learns about the histories of Dr. O’Reilly and his housekeeper, “Kinky” (Mrs. Kinkaid) while Dr. Laverty slowly adjusts to village life, gets to know the patients and falls madly in love with a beautiful young civil engineering student whom he meets on a train. The elder doctor O’Reilly is an eccentric man with a beer-drinking dog, a crazed cat and occasionally offbeat, deceptive manner but the best of intentions. The dog and cat are well-described, fun characters and I found that I enjoyed scenes with the two pets were usually favorites.

O’Reilly and Laverty have a game in which they try to prove their literary knowledge; one doctor spouts quotes and the other responds by blurting out the source. I found that particular aspect of the book annoying and rather childish. There were times, too, that I really thought Dr. O’Reilly’s deliberate dishonesty went over the line. I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t want him to be my doctor. And, yet, I tried to overlook the characteristics I disliked and just enjoy the setting, the unique language and the stories.

During a moment of distraction, Laverty does make a terrible error in An Irish Country Doctor, but the first book closes on a high note as a party is thrown for a young couple and their new baby, soon to leave for a new life in America.

An Irish Country Village is much the same, focusing on the unique characters, Laverty’s love life, the everyday business of doctoring and the ways Dr. O’Reilly connives to keep the lives of villagers running smoothly. There are a few tense moments during medical crises in each book. But, it’s the colorful Irish slang, the two crazed animals and the country characters that make the two novels unique and special. Fortunately, the author has provided a glossary in both books and even a few recipes from Mrs. Kinkaid.

Both books are enjoyable, light reads with just a little mildly yucky detail about patients, a wee bit of cursing and a tiny bit of sex. Recommended for light, fairly clean reading with quirky characters and a great sense of place. I believe it’s important to become acquainted with the characters in the An Irish Country Doctor in order to fully understand and relate to their continuing story in An Irish Country Village.

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