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Two Days in Aragon by M. J. Farrell
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Two Days in Aragon (1941)

by M. J. Farrell

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Set in the 1920s, just after the Irish “troubles,” and during the Irish Civil Wars, Molly Keane describes two heartbreaking days in one of the last of the Irish great houses, Aragon. Residing within its great halls are young sisters Grania and Sylvia, their mother Mrs. Fox and dotty aunt, Miss Pigeon as well as Nan, a distant cousin and nursemaid, although the girls are way beyond that stage.

Grania sets the narrative in motion by falling in love with Nan’s accomplished horseman son, Foley. It would be unheard of for her to associate with what is really just a serving class member so nothing good can come of this and it would be outrageous for Grania to reveal this relationship to “good” people. Her slightly older sister has her heart set on Captain Purvis of the British army who is stationed locally and often invited for tea and tennis. The IRA is frequently in the area also.

Oddly enough, Nan O’Neill stands at the center of the book, even though her class should preclude this. We aren’t really aware of this at first but as the novel progresses it becomes more and more apparent as this very powerful woman dominates the narrative in surprising ways. Keane has depicted such complex characters that I wonder why the rest of her oeuvre has been described as “light.” Perhaps she didn’t realize how well-done these strong characters were but this book is a testament to powerful women. Sylvia, in the end, turns out to be another very complex character who is left questioning everything she once stood for.

Told with humor and poignancy, Two Days in Aragon dispels any question about the differences in the Irish classes at that time in history and the reasons why that social structure crumbled. This is only my second Molly Keane book but it certainly won’t be my last. Very highly recommended. ( )
  brenzi | Jul 22, 2018 |
Aragon, the Irish manor home of the Fox family is almost a character itself. There are plenty of human characters too. Nan, the family nurse who reckons herself the heart and soul of Aragon and has some Fox blood in her. Grania, the Fox daughter who is in love with Nan's son, Foley - who doesn't live at the house but figures prominently in the story. Aunt Pidgie, Sylvia. Frazer, the butler: "Frazer hated pleasure, and life, and himself, and other people, and Ireland."

Another word on Grania: "Grania was a fat little blond with pretty bones under her flesh; rather a slut; and inclined to wear party shoes with old tweeds."

So there's the family drama and IRA drama in the form of British soldiers being kidnapped and Foley getting mixed up in that. There's a decent story in here, buried in all the words the eye tends to skip over, perhaps unnecessary now but apparently the style at the time. ( )
  Hagelstein | Jul 18, 2018 |
Set in 1920 during the Troubles, Two Days in Aragon is a dramatic portrayal of the Irish at this point in history. Anglo-Irish families were part of the privileged social class, loyal to the British crown and living in stately homes like Aragon. They were set apart from their Irish Catholic servants, who had very different political views and a markedly different way of life.

The Foxes were one such Anglo-Irish family. Mrs. Fox, a widow, lived at Aragon with her two daughters. Sylvia's life was caught up in tea parties, tennis, and pursuit of military men. Her younger sister, Grania, "was a fat little blonde with pretty bones under her flesh; rather a slut, and inclined to wear party shoes with old tweeds." There was a fierce rivalry between the sisters, and seemingly little warmth in the family.

But the force behind Aragon's greatness was its housekeeper, Nan O'Neill. Strong, controlling, and sometimes cruel, she is fiercely devoted to Aragon. But hers is more than a servant's basic devotion to her master, and Nan has spent a lifetime trying to set herself apart from the rest of the Irish servant class. Yet she's not really part of the family, nor is she accepted by the Irish. And she is appalled to discover a liaison between Grania and her son Foley. Nan understands the social boundaries, perhaps more than anyone else.

Nan runs a tight ship and exudes professional decorum, but her dark side emerges when she cares for Miss Pidgie, a batty old aunt living with the Fox family. Pidgie is a simple soul, comic and tremendously sad at the same time. Her world is confined to Aragon. She has an odd habit of collecting bird eggs from their nests, to give to imaginary figures she calls her "Diblins." She is poorly dressed, with painful shoes, but no one pays attention to her needs. In fact, Nan derives sadistic pleasure from Pidgie's hardships, and from meting out small "privileges" -- a walk outdoors, or a bit of sweet with tea -- on her own terms.

The central conflict in this novel involves the capture of a pair of British soldiers by some Irish mercenaries. Sylvia is in love with one of the soldiers, but masks her fear by pressing on with her social commitments. When Foley is implicated in the capture, Grania worries herself sick while Nan takes matters into her own hands. Once again Nan's inner strength prevails, and she takes a tremendous personal risk to do what she believes is right.

I loved Molly Keane's writing, especially her ability to capture the essence of a character in just a few words. Even a minor character like Frazer, the butler, came to life through phrases like this: "Frazer hunched his shoulders like a sick crow, and stooped again to dirty tea-cups and crummy plates." As the conflict built, Keane deftly wove each character's thread together in a way that showed their essence, even giving the heretofore shallow Sylvia a critical heroic role at the story's climax. This was my first Molly Keane novel, and I have many more on my shelves to look forward to. ( )
15 vote lauralkeet | Sep 11, 2011 |
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Grania Fox was eighteen.
Two Days in Aragon was Molly Keane's ninth novel and is perhaps her most ambitious. (Introduction)
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"There was too much beauty round Aragon, and too much beauty is dangerous . . . Rising above the river banks and stone flights of fox-watched steps, the house had the lonely quality of bird flight." The Georgian house of Aragon stands amongst rhododendrons and scented azaleas, a testament to centuries of gracious living. Here, with their mother, their dotty Aunt Pidgie and Nan O'Neill, the family nurse, live Grania and Sylvia Fox. Wild-blooded Grania is conducting a secret affair with Nan's son, Foley, a wiley horse-breeder, whilst Sylvia who is "pretty in the right and accepted way" falls for the charms of Captain Purvis. Attending Aragon's strawberry teas, the British Army Officers can almost forget the reason for their presence in Ireland. But the days of dignified calm at Aragon are numbered, for Foley is a member of Sinn Fein . . . In this dramatic and compelling novel, first published in 1941, M. J. Farrell portrays the endangered ease of Anglo-Irish life - its assumed superiority and careless evasions - with a vibrant wit and a powerful sense of the complexity of political realities.
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