DONAL AGUS JIMMY by P. D. Singer
Donal meets Jimmy in the pay line at the shipworks in Belfast where they both work. Donal wants a roommate and Jimmy wants to move out of his parents' home, so they move into a boarding house together. Donal feels the strong attraction to Jimmy that he doubts the other man feels for him, but one evening of drunkenness gives them both the excuse to take their friendship to a more physical level. They mange to hide their relationship, yet become very close, until an opportunity arises for one to ship out on their latest liner on the maiden voyage. The name of the ship is the HMS Titanic. Donal is crushed when he hears the news of the ship's disaster. He doesn't think he will ever love again.
1912 and the years surrounding it was a tumultuous time in Ireland. There was no political separation of Northern and southern Ireland then, and the fight for Home Rule is the talk in every pub in every part of the nation. The Easter Rising is just four years away. Singer presentss us with the sort of look at historical events that make historical fiction such a valuable adjunct to history itself, a view into the life of the "man and woman on the street", in this case the streets of Belfast. Donal and Jimmy try to stay away from the hot debates in the pub over whether Ireland should have its own goverbment. One Protestant man shouts, "Home Rule is Rome rule!" The lovers have enough to deal with with hiding their love, keeping their jobs, and making plans to leave someday for "Americay". The drama of the Titanic looms, and the reader also knows that the Great War is just around the corner.
The author does a fine job of capturing Belfast in that decade, bringing the young men and their families and friends fully into being as characters. The story of the Titanic would be hard for any author to resist as part of the drama, and Singer has a light and deft hand at the tiller. The cadence of Belfast is in the voices of the characters, and she paints the sort of family culture that fits the society in which the novel takes place.
I should have liked to know more about the two older men one of the young men's sister goes to work for, and if I would have changed anything I would have liked to get a glimpse into the lives that Donal is certain mirrors his and Jimmy's relationship. But as an afficianado of that period in Irish history, I am quite content with this simple, unassuming yet profound love story.
Christopher Hawthorne Moss is the author of WHERE MY LOVE LIES DREAMING and BELOVED PILGRIM, both available from Dreamsppinner Press.