Curtis, PJ - The Lightning Tree
"Outside of a dog, a book is a mans best friend. Inside of a dog, its too dark to read.' (Groucho Marx)
The Lightning Tree - Brandon Books
In the forward to this remarkable novel the author tells us of his relationship with Mariah, with whom he made friends as a young boy and who died when he was ten. From her reminiscences he has woven a magical tale of a woman who provided a link of memory with the early years of the nineteenth century and whose life was shadowed by both the Famine and a love tragically lost.
Though experiencing at first hand the curse of emigration, with the departure of her brother Frank and his wife to Australia, Mariah spent all of her life within a few miles radius of her family home in the Burren area of north Clare, a house built by her great-grandfather in the eighteenth century. Here she learnt the ways of domestic life from her mother but, more importantly, she also learnt the lore of the healer from her father and this became a dominant part of her life. The author describes in detail some of the ancient remedies used, though often the healing meted out by Mariah, her father and her brother Brian relied more on psychology than on medicine.
Born in 1858, Mariah witnessed a number of tragic events over her long life, including the hasty burial of a newborn baby, and the death of a mother and child from cold and hunger. But though "The Lightning Tree" records its share of physical hardship, it is dominated by the spiritual dimension which is itself enhanced by the beauty of the language. Curtis portrays the young Mariah's closeness to the world of the spirits, a closeness that leads to an ethereal playmate and which is at one with her identification with the natural world and her own corner of it. On climbing the hill behind the house she records, "From that high mound, I could see the entire world I was to inhabit all my life", and it is this continuity of place over almost a century that brings depth to both the narrative and the characters.
The author uses the eponymous lightning tree, an ash tree destroyed by lightning while Mariah was still a child, and the chestnut tree on the corner which was the focal point for much of the village activity, as symbols of life and death, but also of the tenacity of life; the chestnut tree is cut down in the name of progress but the stricken ash tree germinates new shoots from within itself, signifying both continuity and the strength of the life force.