Away tells the story of four generations of family history from Ireland just before the famine of the mid-19th century, through desperate emigration to Canada and final settlement and prosperity on the shores of Lake Ontario. Away is set set in 1842 on a small island at the northernmost tip of Ireland. After a terrifying storm Mary O’Malley, a peasant’s daughter who is young, flame-haired and beautiful, finds a dying sailor amoung the flotsam of a shipwreck. She falls asleep in his arms, only to be woken by a fearful crowd of neighbours who are convinced that her soul has been taken over by otherworldly forces and that she is now, as they see it, ‘away’. The handsome sailor had died in her arms. The local schoolteacher, Brian O’Malley, marries her and takes her to the mainland just in time for the great potato famine. Although the English landowners are disparaged in the book, their landlord finances their emigration to Canada. Of course the first years of homesteading in Northern Ontario are extremely trying. Eventually, after her second child is born, Mary wanders away into the wilderness. The story shifts to the second generation, Liam and Eileen.
This is my second reading of Away. It is awash with good writing. A jewel of a book. Definitely a must read.