Spellbound
by Jeanette Baker, contemporary (2001)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-671-03458-8


I know the editors believe that stories of politically turbulent Ireland make readers squirmy. I know there is a bunch of vocal "We read romance novels only for escapism, so don't you dare put any real life stuff" twitty, reality-impaired readers out there. And I wonder if Jeanette Baker's categorization as a romance author more a curse than a blessing in this aspect where I am concerned.

I don't like Spellbound, not after reading works like Irish Lady. Then again, I'm not the type of readers who think life in an idyllic, stuck-in-1920s island heavenly or romantic either. Romantic to me is a free unlimited usage of Internet via a T3 network, Hugh Jackman massaging my feet, Joaquin Phoenix feeding me grapes, and $100 bills raining onto my front parlor every ten minutes. Oh yeah, and a house that can clean up by itself. The readers who love Spellbound will probably be those who see themselves as armchair apologists for the "Poor, Suppressed Irishmen" (same way as many of us are all armchair apologists for the "Poor, Suppressed Scots" - the British are bastards!) and are in love with idyllic descriptions of life free from modern amenities and even vigorous (outside the bedroom) activities.

Will I sound like a horrible bigot if I say "Oh, you Americans"? Okay, I won't say it. Heh heh heh...

Spellbound is a cliché: American Irish Mollie Tierney returning to the idyllic island of Inishmore to rediscover her pure Irish roots. She takes care of her late brother's daughter and falls for brother-in-law Sean. Sean O'Malley mistrusts her at first, because his twin sister Kerry is married to Mollie's brother who is a drunkard wastrel. But of course, Mollie soon makes enough apologies for being American, completely renounces her modern ways, and becomes the Pure Irish Lass as Sean nods in approval.

Then disaster comes! Oh, the pain! The change of livelihood of these stuck-in-a-timewarp people. Oh no, they are bringing in - gasp - CNN! Oh, the pain. Sean couldn't bear it. Mother Ireland is being raped by modernities. How can we all bear it, oh poor readers! Mollie, apologize for your nationality, tan, and passport now!

Let us all be ashamed of our non-Irishness! Let us petition to our town councils, demanding that we live like the folks of Inishmore, free from modern amenities with only the local old wise crone for medical treatments.

I still can't reconcile the author who exposes the strengths and weaknesses of strifetorn Ireland with the author of this twitty, fluffy, Pollyanna-esque froth. Yes, Spellbound is beautifully written, but heck, an ornate box containing mouldy cheese is beautiful too.

And the Irish national anthem plays on and on.

Rating: 69


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