Death and Nightingales takes place in 1883 in the vicinity of Ulster, now the border between The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. It was a time and place of extreme political and religious tensions as well as cross generation issues. The book is one day in the life of Elizabeth Winters, a young woman. Elizabeth's mother was Catholic, her father an unknown Catholic and she was born shortly after her mother's marriage to a Protestant. Her mother died long ago and she is determined to set her own course in life, rising above the determinants of religion and caste, but you can see she is doomed to repeat the cycle her mother began for her. Much of the novel centers on the relationship of Elizabeth and the man her mother married, her legal but not her birth father. Much of the pain of Elizabeth's life comes from the hatred the act of betrayal that her birth brought about created in her legal father.
The novel deals with the religious hatreds of the time and the very repressed sexuality of the people.
The language of Death and Nightingales is magnificent, especially the first few pages. I am very glad I read this novel.
Eugene McCabe (born 1930) is an Irish novelist, short story writer, playwright and television screenwriter. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland, to Irish emigrants, but moved with his family to Ireland in the early 1940s. He lives on a farm near Clones in County Monaghan near the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. His play King of the Castle caused a minor scandal when first shown in 1964 and was protested by The League of Decency. McCabe wrote his award-winning trilogy of television plays, consisting of Cancer, Heritage and Siege because he felt he had to make a statement about The Troubles. His 1992 novel, Death and Nightingales has been called by Irish writer Colm Tóibín "one of the great Irish masterpieces of the century" and a "classic of our times" by Kirkus Reviews.