The Black Prophet by William Carleton

In a community struck by illness, hunger and poverty, how can a 20-year-old murder influence the lives of the people? Turns out, in a lot of ways.

9781406502770We are in a small town in North Ireland (then just Ireland) in the 19th century. Sarah, who’s uncle disappeared under mysterious circumstances 20 year earlier, is in love with young Dalton, the son of the man thought to have killed him. High jinks.

“I don’t know; it’s a dead tie between them; however, I can give you
a lift with her father, but not with herself, for somehow, she doesn’t
like a bone in my skin.”

And with high jinks I mean a dark and gritty tale showing the reality of hunger and epidemic. I say gritty in the sense that the first scene we read about is between a step-mother and her daughter, which ends with one biting the ear of the other. I say realistic because William Carleton was born into poverty in Ireland. It’s not unlikely that the things he describes is influenced by his own upbringing (though I haven’t heard that he bit an ear off, but you never know). He also beautifully details how hunger and epidemic often go hand in hand.

In this manner were the people led first into folly, and ultimately
into rioting and crime; for it is not, in point of fact, those who are
suffering most severely that take a prominent part in these senseless
tumults, or who are the first to trample upon law and order.

In addition to the suffering of hunger and illness the town must deal with the Black Prophet. The Black hqdefaultProphet is a man walking around saying prophecies, and not of the nice and fluffy ones. This prophet is in a lot of ways is firmly grounded. History is filled with people who have been given the role to predict the past or the future in one way or another. At the same time, these people are bound to be a part of the supernatural, because they deal with the supernatural. Especially when you have a dark and creepy air like this one. This book is Les Miserables meets Dr. Jekylle and Mr. Hyde.

I also got a new view on the potato. Now the potato was viewed as an aphrodisiac for a long time. The English, especially, noticed that there suddenly were a lot more Irish after the potato was introduced to the country. No-one thought that maybe it was due to finally having an easily accessible food source (which is what I was thought). Then again, it’s much more complicated than that, as it often is.


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