This is the third installment in Sharon Owens’ Irish trilogy that began with The Teahouse on Mulberry Street and continued with The Ballroom on Magnolia Street. Readers of her earlier books should be familiar with Owens’ modus operandi: a physical structure, in this case a tavern, is the centerpiece of the narrative, drawing an ensemble of characters who gravitate to it bringing their quirks, problems, and peccadilloes.
Jack and Lilly Beaumont inherit a tavern in Belfast that they run with nary a nod to the gods of commerce. They are content to make enough to pay their bills and live in blissful married harmony in their home upstairs. Into this tranquil and idyllic situation trouble comes in the form of a mall developer (that scourge of most things traditional!) who wants to buy the entire neighborhood, including the tavern. Jack and Lilly face this danger with a variety of laugh-out-loud defenses that allows Owens to introduce a host of characters, describing whom as “quirky” may be an understatement.
Owens’ strength is in creating wonderful characters, be it the octogenarian trio of Barney, Joey, and Francy Mac, who use the pub as an extension of their home, or the waitresses hired by Lilly to drum up additional business to thwart the mall developer’s nefarious scheme. Uncharacteristically though, Owens introduces several characters in this book who bring either prurient interest (Betsy Bradley, the surgically-enhanced wife of a successful author) or a strong dose of cynicism (Liam “Limo” Bradley, the author of Bang Bang, a bestselling book of questionable literary value) to the narrative. Liam Bradley drinks continuously, more so as he encounters an almost terminal writer’s block, and lusts after Lilly Beaumont. To Owens’ credit, she offers a satisfying denouement to the book as a dizzying chain of events allow the protagonists to come out well at the end.
As in her earlier books, Owens presents a Belfast that is different from that portrayed in news events. The Irish separatist struggles are at a distance (except to add an important layer to Jack Beaumont’s background), and life in Belfast seems to be similar to that in other cities as people confront quotidian economic and emotional issues. Owens’ prose is not recondite; rather its straightforwardness allows the reader to be beguiled and charmed by the characters and their actions. The current book, as is true of the trilogy, is a fine read, its gentle rhythms offering a perfect complement to the compelling cast of characters.