Savage Her Reply – Deirdre Sullivan
Illustrator: Karen Vaughan. Published by Little island Books
‘The Children of Lir’ is an ancient foundational myth of Irish folklore.
It has been told and retold down the generations and has been referred to as influential both to the story of ‘Swan Lake’ and in the works of Bram Stoker.
Deirdre Sullivan’s ‘Savage Her Reply’ is a response for our times to this ancient Irish fairy tale. The interwoven illustrations by Karen Vaughan, complement Sullivan’s text in a way that enhances an already beautiful piece of writing.
For it is a beautiful piece of writing. It has the allure of a fireside yarn alongside the lyricism of a bardic song. Several times, I wanted to read aloud or be read to so as to hear the rhythm of the recitation. Just lovely!
This retelling is essentially a study of power: A feminist exploration of who owns it and what are the acts and retaliations that ensue? The basic storyline starts with Aife marrying King Lir, who has four children by his former wife. Aife becomes jealous. We may soon be in the realms of wicked stepmothers and witchcraft.
I’ll leave you to enjoy how these traditional tropes of women’s wickedness are played out for our times.
I also enjoyed the strong presence of nature in Sullivan’s retelling; this seemed to reflect our current ecological awakening and enhanced understanding of the healing power of nature in difficult times.
I would recommend this book to adults and to young adults who are confident readers (YA 13+)
I found it helpful to look up the legend of King Lir for its bare outline as this was, unfortunately, my first acquaintance with the story. If readers prefer to go straight to the book, the “original” story is briefly explained in each section.