An ordinary, almost staid, couple are overwhelmed by crisis when their third child is born. The book starts off fairly ordinary and staid too, but this makes the crisis all the more realistic when it hits and easier to sympathize with.
Once the new baby is born, the writing becomes sensitive and involving, the characterization sharper and deeper and it’s possible to really care about what has happened and what will happen. As the trust and communication between the parents break down, threatening the fabric of the family, Dan, the husband, bolts to his father’s house in Ireland. He becomes better acquainted with his father, with his family history and with the history of Ireland, a country he’s never before thought of as his own. Kate, his wife, is left to cope with two children and a new baby. Dan’s behaviour is enough to make the reader want to give him a good shake but Casey explores his motivation with such sensitivity that it’s impossible not to be on his side too. In the midst of this emotional agonizing, the action moves two hundred years to the Irish Rebellion of the late 18th century and Caribbean island of Montserrat, where even Irishmen could be landlords and slaveowners. In its own quiet way this novel is unsettling and even shocking as it challenges the reader to step into Dan’s shoes: are you as open-minded, as trusting, as loyal as you think you are?
A seamlessly achieved, questioning work
This is the story of two adults forced to grow far beyond the boundaries of their own expectations. It is also the story of history, and how the separation of past and present which we casually insist on in day-to-day discourse, is challenged by chance, one-in-a-million events, in this case, the inexplicable birth of a black child to London-based white parents, Kate and Dan. Kate is fascinated by the presence of black figures in Renaissance paintings, and there is even a hint of her attraction to the black husband of a friend. After the birth of their (black) baby girl, Dan’s blind rage in the face of the seemingly impossible is one of the central emotional notes in the narrative, and thus begins a journey in which he is compelled to look at his own past and how this past has impinged on his present. Nothing is comfortable. No character in these pages is allowed the easy option. Complacency is the great moral failure that almost overwhelms Dan time and again. Gradually, he explores stories and situations which – one imagines – he would never have envisaged. He learns about his own ancestors’ involvement in the 1798 Irish Rebellion, about inexplicable rages and passions equal to his own, and he comes to understand the great, arduous journeys of those forced to flee abroad to America and to Montserrat.
The tectonic overlapping of black and white, of love and what? prejudice? complacency? past and present? continues beyond the novel’s closing words. Casey began his writing career as a poet. One senses that the poet in him contributes to a complex and often metaphoric refinement of the problem of confronting what seems alien and ‘other’. There are no right-on pronouncements in The Fisher Child, no “correct” views on either race or nationality. Instead, the characters are human and as such they explore what they need within their own terms and within the terms of history.
The novel’s final image is startling, enigmatic, beautiful and challenging. Through it, Casey appears to urge a re-examination of that which we assume to be philosophically ordered, and to confront our own dreams just as Dan does: which implies that nothing is separate and that the world has a wild interdependance that rises even from the genetic, cellular mine of our own bodies. A fresh and intriguing book that many writers would love to have written.
–Mary O’Donnell Amazon.co.uk review, 3 December, 2001
a beautiful, evocative tale of love tested
Philip Casey’s third novel, The Fisher Child, is a beautiful, evocative tale of love tested. Kate and Dan, happily married with two children, have their lives turned upside down after the birth of Meg.
The novel is divided into three parts: the first told through Kate’s eyes and the third through Dan’s. The novel changes style for the forceful middle section dealing with the Rebellion and subsequent life in Montserrat through the eyes of Dan’s ancestor, Hugh Byrne.
The history told in this engrossing section makes sense of the novel as a whole. From its mesmerising opening chapters in Florence, through the shocking climax to the close, the complicated inter-family relationships threaded with echoes of the past are woven with exquisite skill.
–Sue Leonard, The Irish Examiner February 23, 2002
Dan is never granted as much historical knowledge as the reader, but even without all the facts he learns he can have a little more trust, in his wife, but also an implicit trust; one shared by the other characters in this wise, tender novel, in the muddled connections and continuities of their lives.
–Paul Magrs, TLS November 9, 2001 full review
a careful, diligent storyteller, and, as he has shown here, daring
Casey, one of the quiet men of Irish writing, is a careful, diligent storyteller, and, as he has shown here, daring.
Casey’s attempts to describe the emergence of modern Irish society, its myths, its realities and bitter truths, through his Bann River Trilogy, remains brave and honest.
–Eileen Battersby, The Irish Times November 10, 2001
a rare treat
Its linkage to The Water Star is highly interesting (even if occasionally there is a lot of having to explain details of personal histories). The only comparison I can think of is the films The Godfather and Godfather II, which managed to function as both a sequel and a pre-sequel to the original, a difficult imaginative feat which Casey more than successfully pulls off. In doing so he has created a complex novel of contrasts and parallels within the emotions, prejudices and self-awareness of two males linked by a name and a secret and the irresistible pull of a Wexford mountain calling them home. The Fisher Child is a stand-alone novel that can exist without reference to any other book. But read along with The Water Star is to have a rare treat in store.
–Dermot Bolger, The Sunday Independent November 25, 2001 full review
pb review by Isabel Montgomery
Dan and Kate appear the epitome of smug marrieds. We first meet them, with two children behind them and a home in Islington, on a weekend break in Florence. So far so dull, as they take in the sights, but Meg, the unplanned fruit of holiday lovemaking, shows how quickly a comfortable, even complacent, existence can be destroyed. Casey’s portrayal of Kate, rejected and depressed, yet experiencing a fierce need to defend her child, is finely realised, and Dan’s sense of masculinity betrayed and his flight to Ireland also ring true.
–Isabel Montgomery, The Guardian, August 17, 2002.