From the author of “Strongbow’s Wife” and “A Purgatory of Misery” comes another searing account of a terrible period in Irish history. When a government official exposes the unpalatable truth about the famine in mid-nineteenth century West Clare he is called to account by the men he accuses. Abandoned by his masters, he has only his strength of character and the love of his wife and daughter to sustain him as he fights famine and disease in a land teeming with destitute men, women and children.
Graham J Griffiths –
Characters: I thought the main protagonists of Kennedy and Vandeleur came across well-drawn and believable. Kennedy was particularly diligent and dutiful, as was to be expected in a high ranking army officer, but with compassion and understanding, probably rarely found in men of his class during those times. Vandeleur was far less understanding of the plight of the poor and typically scheming and self-serving. Georgina and Elizabeth gave the tale a more heart-warming touch but not enough to balance out the heart breaking descriptions of the starving and dying people of the land. I will admit to shedding the occasional tear when struggling to read those parts of the story.
Story/Plot: Very well done with sufficient preparation for the reader through Kennedy’s thoughts at the start of the book, leading into the real situation in depth as everything unfolds. I knew little of what happened during the Irish Famine of 1847 and found this story an education. Like much of my early schooling there was a lot of social history I was not taught, most of it stirring feelings of shame about the British ruling classes later on. Here is another story that needed to be told and the author is to be commended for tackling it so well.
Pace and Structure: It is well paced and encourages one to turn the page and discover what happens next, although I found Vandeleur’s occasional ‘thoughts’ too abrupt and surprising. In addition I’m still not sure I liked the use of bold type to distinguish Vandeleur’s narrative from Kennedy’s; although the triple asterisks helped.
Use of Language: There was no problem here and it was a pleasure to read a book from beginning to end without glaring typos and errors! The style of language suited the main protagonist’s class and education and was completely acceptable.
Narrative Voice: While I have to say that I much prefer novels written in the third person, and actively dislike books using the first person, it was appropriate here to some extent. For me, when it is necessary for the plot to appear from another character’s point of view, it presents problems of authenticity for both the reader and the author. For example in the sections of this book when Crofton Vandeleur is narrating, as I mentioned above, it felt clumsy and unlike the author’s previous writing. Perhaps it’s just me!
Dialogue: There was little dialogue but the speech felt natural. I’d have liked to hear some local vernacular from ‘mendicants’ and workers for example.
Settings: The settings and scenery were well described, without too much flowery language and metaphor, which would possibly have been inappropriate under the distressing circumstances. The court scenes needed a little more detail to establish the ambience better.
Themes: The general theme of Kennedy’s methods, personal misgivings and difficulties while attempting to carry out his duties under appalling circumstances, came across exceptionally well. His battles with the local officials and, indeed, with his superiors in London created the necessary sympathy from this reader; and the contrasts, and even the similarities, with contemporary social and political events are still a salutary lesson for us all.
‘Called to Account’ is a highly recommended book for all fans of significant historical fiction.
Mary E. Hughes –
Captain Arthur Kennedy, the Poor Law Inspector for Co. Clare, has been accused of slander against one of the town’s most prominent citizens, one Crofton Vandeleur. Kennedy has been called to account for his actions in managing the Poor Laws in the Kilrush Union, in the south-west of Ireland. Vandeleur is occasionally allowed to give his point of view, but essentially the novel is Kennedy’s defense of his work in Kilrush.
Called to Account has been meticulously researched and is flawlessly written. It is a harrowing tale of the suffering of the Irish peasantry in the mid 19th century. Kennedy has quickly understood the dilemma faced by the landowners, his fellow Anglo-Irish gentry. In order to have sufficient cash to pay the rates (property taxes) which fund the operation of the Workhouse, landowners must collect rents and/or grow crops for cash sales. Many landlords were unnecessarily cruel, but many assisted their tenants to emigrate. Kennedy discovers that many tenant farmers and labourers try to cheat the system, many who are in dire need refuse to enter the Workhouse, and many refuse to pay their rent or their taxes. But he is also persuaded that the land, divided as it is into small holdings, cannot support the existing population.
Kennedy shows himself to be a devoted husband who is proud of his family’s charitable work. His wife, Georgina, has successfully recruited the ladies of Kilrush to make clothes for the indigent.
Frank Parker has successfully endowed Kennedy with a consistent and credible mid-19th century voice, that of an educated Anglo-Irish gentleman. By and large the Captain is tactful, diplomatic and balanced in his assessment of what is a very complex situation. Once in a while Kennedy reveals his origins; there is one reference to the left-behind Irish being idle and indolent.
I found it interesting that in this novel, the churches do not play any significant role in helping the stricken and starving people. The contribution of the Society of Friends in establishing soup kitchens is acknowledged.
Frank Parker provides an instructive afterword explaining that Captain Arthur Kennedy later enjoyed a distinguished career in the military and the diplomatic service and was knighted for his work. As a west-coast Canadian, I was prompted to discover that in 1864 he served for two years as Governor of Vancouver Island. Highly recommended.
I’ve just finished Frank Parker’s historical novel ‘Called to Account’. It illustrates what we, under certain circumstances, can and will do to each other when there is money involved.
It’s the story of the potato plants struck by a disease that destroyed the harvest and created the great famine during the years 1845-1852, causing awful deaths on a grand scale.
Parker’s book was for me compelling reading. As well as the subject matter, harrowing at times, he has created very believable characters. The way he used the language was a joy. The voices of Arthur Kennedy and Crofton Vandeleur were very natural. I finished the book in one day. A great read, but also a story that will make you angry when the question arises as to why did this famine have to happen. Could it have been avoided? The book gives us some of the answers. Again, a compelling read!