Published Jun 2014
Myself, I am called Manticory, tiger girl, on account of the red hair that is fierce upon my head . . . the redness of it, which was enough to have got me into the heinous kind of trouble that I could not tell my sisters about . . .
Rural Ireland in the first half of the nineteenth century. It is the age of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, when Europe burns with a passion for long flowing locks. And when seven sisters, born into fatherless poverty grow up with hair cascading down their backs, to their ankles, and beyond, men are not slow to recognize their potential.
It begins with a singing and dancing septet, with Irish jigs kicked out in dusty church halls. But it is not the sisters’ singing or their dancing that fills the seats: it is the torrents of hair they let loose at the end of each show. In an Ireland still hungry and melancholy with the famine, the Swiney hair is a rich offering.
And their hair will take dark-hearted Darcy, bickering twins Berenice and Enda, plain Pertilly, gentle Oona, wild Ida and fearful, flame-haired Manticory – the inimitable narrator of their on-and-off stage adventures – out of poverty, through the dance halls of Ireland, to the salons of Dublin and the palazzos of Venice. It will bring them suitors and obsessive admirers, it will bring some of them love and each of them loss. For their past trails behind the sisters like the tresses on their heads and their fame and fortune will come at a terrible price . . .
Rich in period detail, peopled by a bewitching cast of characters, The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters is a tale of exploitation and celebrity, illegitimacy and sibling rivalry, love triangles and financial skullduggery, of death and devilry. And a very great deal of hair.