Pat and the Eason Book Club read: 'The Doctor's Wife is Dead'

The panellists read the debut novel by Irish writer Andrew Tierney

Right in time for Easter, the Eason Book Club gathered once again on The Pat Kenny Show, this time reading a debut novel from an Irish archaeologist.

From Andrew Tierney, a native of Tipperary, comes an intriguing piece of historical non-fiction, surrounding the tragic case of Ellen Langley.

In 1849, the townspeople of Nenagh were scandalised by the death of the wife of the prosperous local doctor. But why was a woman of means buried in a pauper’s coffin? And why had she been confined to the grim attic of the house she shared with her husband, only to be banished to another room in a famine-ravaged part of town?

Painstakingly following every twist and turn of the inquest into Ellen Langley’s death and the trial of her husband, The Doctor’s Wife is Dead vividly brings to life mid-19th-century Ireland. Using records scoured from local archives and the Coroner’s Court, Tierney exposes the truth about an Ireland we often look back at and assume was a simpler place to live.

“What’s great about is that it reveals that people don’t change,” said Pat. “There were affairs, there was a bishop and a homosexual scandal. There were lots of things that make you think they weren’t so straitlaced as we think.”

Rating the book 10/10, singer Brian Kennedy also heaped praise on Tierney’s work. “I thought it was really brilliantly written, I love his command of language. I think this would be an amazing movie, by the way.”

Katherine Lynch, describing The Doctor’s Wife as “not the kind of book I’d normally read,” found it detailed and incredibly sad, with the story of an abused wife not a million miles from the stories of abuse we’d read about in today’s newspapers. Social structures impact the story greatly, with Ellen Langley bound by marriage to a man who destroyed her.

“She would have been better off if she were a pauper, she could have gone out and begged.”

Mary O’Rourke was just as taken as Brian, enjoying getting lost in the rich historical narrative created by Tierney.

“He has a fabulous glossary at the back, and from time to time I would just look that up. It was so interesting and so detailed in its glossary.”

As ever, the Eason Book Club was joined on the line by a listener, with Eimhin Walsh representing the members of his own, the Baking, Books, and Beer Club. Founded a few years ago as a chance to share recipes and baked goods, the group quickly realised a love of books and beer could also be part of the fun.

Eimhin said he loved the book, though was the only person in the club that liked it, with the other members getting bogged down with some of the formatting.

The only one who really enjoyed it. “When I read the back of the book, the blurb, I hadn’t heard of it. I was kind of expecting a work of fiction. And there’s nothing in the blurb that really gives it away as being historical non-fiction. So after reading a couple of pages, I was starting to get really annoyed with the footnotes.”

May’s book of the month choice comes down to Katherine Lynch, who will make her selection early next week from the following four titles: Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor, Skintown by Ciaran McMenamin, The Blood Miracles by Lisa McInerney, and Horace Winter Says Goodbye by Conor Bowman.

You can listen back to this week’s book club in the embedded podcast below

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