The True and Splendid Adventures of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric

There are books that you love, and then there are books that lift you up, spin you around, and then drop you back to earth, dazzled. ‘The True and Splendid Adventures of the Harristown Sisters’ is one of those books; a captivating story packed full of full of characters, incidents and images.

There were seven Swiney sisters, and they were all blessed with fantastic rivers of hair, cascading below their knees and ranging in color from honey gold to copper red to the deepest black.  Darcy, the eldest, was dark-haired and dark-hearted; twins Berenice and Enda bickered incessantly; Oona was gentle and fair; Pertilly was plain and Stolid; Ida was the youngest, a wild fairy queen; and flame-haired middle sister, Manticory, would tell all of their stories and the stories of them all.

The were all beautifully, richly and distinctively drawn, and each sister has her own role in the story that was to come.

They grow up penniless, fatherless and hungry; raised on tales of their sailor father—whose unpredictable nocturnal visits are witnessed only by their mother – that they do not entirely believe. It’s no wonder, as they are all so different, and they are treated with scorn by their neighbours.

Darcy is treated with particular contempt by her mortal enemy – ‘the Eileen O’Reilly’ – but she finds a way to fight back. She conceives a plan to free the girls from poverty: she bullies her sisters into creating a vaudeville show,  filled with maudlin songs and hair-oriented skits, with a finale featuring the sisters simply letting down their prodigious locks in a cascade.

20903440In an age when women always wore their hair pinned up, when they only let it down at night, in the privacy of their bedrooms, Darcy thought that her show would be a sensation. It was, and it was a success beyond her wildest dreams.

It doesn’t take long though, for unscrupulous men appear to manipulate the young women financially and romantically. As they rise from Harristown, to Dublin, and then to Venice, they have to deal with notoriety and scandal, and as sisters fall under different influences and pull in different directions there are consequences for them all.

Can the show go on?

Manticory begins to have doubts about the products they hawk, she questions Darcy’s financial management and the close control she keeps of all their purse-strings, and she wonders about the mysterious small grave in the backyard of their Harristown home ….

The telling of the story is sublime, the prose is gorgeously descriptive, somehow rich, poetic and earthy all at the same time. The settings are magically evoked, they live and breathe, and so many story strands – same that are predictable and some that are anything but – are woven together to make a glorious tapestry of a book.

There’s wit, there’s colour and there’s love threaded through what might otherwise have been a very dark story.

And at the centre of it all are those fascinating, infuriating sisters; they quarrel bitterly, they feud, they take sides against each other, but they also cling together and keep each others secrets. Such a wonderful portrayal of sisterhood! I loved watching them all interact, and their conversations were a joy.

I loved Manticory’s narration; I loved the way the story played out; I loved that there was a thread of feminism that was strained at the time but that never quite broke; I loved so many things ….

This story was inspired by the true story of the ‘Seven Sutherland Sisters,’ who were once household names in America, who used their locks to sell hair products, who found fame and fortune; and who at one time owned the grandest of mansions where they lived together ….

That story sounds fascinating, and really it couldn’t have inspired a finer fiction.

‘The True and Splendid Adventures of the Harristown Sisters’ more than lives up to its name; it pulled me into its world, it held me spell-bound, and I was so sorry when the story was over and I had to let go.


It was Jo’s idea a couple of years ago, and now it’s become an annual event – celebrate the first six months of the reading year by putting six books into each of six categories.

Not quite as easy as it looks. I’ve tweaked the categories to suit my reading style, and because I wanted to push disappointments to one site and simply celebrate some of the books I’ve read and the books I’ve discovered.

Here are my six sixes:


Six books illuminated by wonderful voices from the twentieth century

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner
The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield
The English Air by D E Stevenson
The Castle on the Hill by Elizabeth Goodge
Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter


Six books from the present that took me to the past

The Visitors by Rebecca Maskell
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey
Turning the Stones by Debra Daley
The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Lovric
Sugar Hall by Tiffany Murray


Six books from the past that pulled me back there

Wired Love by Ella Cheever Thayer
Esther Waters by George Moore
Griffith Gaunt by Charles Reade
Nine Pounds of Luggage by Maud Parrish
The Count of Monte Christo by Alexandre Dumas
Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope


Six books that introduced me to interesting new authors

Wake by Anna Hope
Still She Wished for Company by Margaret Irwin
The Lie of You: I Will Have What is Mine by Jane Lythell
Mr Perrin and Mr Traill by Hugh Walpole
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
None-Go-By by Mrs Alfred Sidgwick


Six successful second meeting with authors

The Auction Sale by C H B Kitchin
The Twelfth Hour by Ada Leverson
A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon
Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
Mrs Westerby Changes Course by Elizabeth Cadell
Her by Harriet Lane


Six used books added to my shelves

The Heroes of Clone by Margaret Kennedy
The Serial Garden by Joan Aiken
Portrait of a Village by Francis Brett Young
The West End Front by Matthew Sweet
The Stag at Bay by Rachel Ferguson
Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Boorman


Do think about putting your own sixes – it’s a great way of perusing your reading, and I’d love to read more lists.