The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters
NetGalley ARC (e-book)
I received an electronic copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. I received no compensation for this.
To start, a brief summary:
Seven sisters growing up in poverty in Ireland in the late 19th century. They are fatherless and live in a small town called Harristown. Rumor flies that they all have different fathers, but their mother, Annora, sticks to her story of the same father who only visits in the night, on occasion. All of the girls have flowing locks of different shades, from blonde to black. Their hair tumbles down to their feet. The oldest sister, Darcy, decides they can make money by charging people to see them sing, dance, and let down their hair because long hair was a wonder at that time. This story follows the seven sisters over a number of years and their travel from poverty to fame and everything that surrounds that: shady businessmen, deception, envy, riches, gambling, and more.
To be honest, it took me a little while to get into this book, but I stuck with it and I’m pretty glad I did. The narrator, Manticory, seems to be the most sane of the entire clan. Darcy, the eldest, has the blackest heart and absolutely no redeeming qualities. Her rivalry with a Harristown local, “the Eileen O’Malley” made me chuckle when they were younger because of the taunts and barbs they would throw back and forth at each other. However, Darcy was much worse that the words that rolled off her tongue. Upon finding out that people, men especially, were entranced with their hair, she decides to force her sisters to sign, dance, and as their big finale, let down their hair for audiences in Harristown. They are able to make enough money to finally have regular meals and buy shoes. Not so bad, right? Well, enter the conniving businessman, Mr. Rainfleury. He ingratiates himself with most of the sisters (causing a bitter rivalry between twins Enda and Berenice, who are always at each other’s throats to begin with), but Manticory is wary of him, but no one listens to her. Darcy signs them into a binding contract that apparently has no way out.
Along the way they encounter other men trying to get rich off of them. There are many things that happen that I found so appalling, but I suppose at that time, women had little control, but when you have a person like Darcy, it’s that much harder to make things right. One thing that did bother me was how much power Darcy really had and how none of the sisters ever stood up to her. I mean, Manticory had a good head on her shoulders and knew that they were being exploited and taken advantage of, yet she felt like her hands were tied. Why did she not speak up to her other sisters to band together against Darcy?
I did enjoy the story more than I thought I would. It was well-written, and after that first bit, I wanted to continue to reading and learn more about the story. Did they really all have the same father? Who was he? Would they ever see him again? Would they get out of their contract? Would anyone stand up to Darcy? Would Darcy get her comeuppance? Would Mr. Rainfleury get his? What would happen to the sisters if they did escape the contract? All of these questions (and more) pushed me to continue reading and were all eventually answered. Some answers weren’t as happy as others, and some were quite satisfying.
According to the author, there was a clan of seven quirky sisters in America on whom she very loosely based this story. (At the end of the book is an “author’s note” in which she explains more about them; they really aren’t all that similar, but I can see where she got the inspiration for her story.
I can see how this book may not work for all readers, but I do encourage people to give it a shot if they’re fans of historical fiction. (though the obsession with hair seems a bit crazy, but who am I to judge? Maybe it really was like that back then.)