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Melody for Nora by Mark O’Sullivan

This story is set in 1922 after the war of Independence in Ireland. Ireland was said to be free at last at a cost of being divided. This story is based very much on the violence of the civil war.

Nora is the main character in this story, whose life isn’t affected by this war. Nora lives for one thing and that is her love for the piano and her talent at this. But when Nora’s mother dies, Nora’s life completely changes. She is moved to her aunt’s house in Tipperary, whom she has never met, because her drunken father can’t cope with her in Dublin.

Nora here meets her aunt and uncle and to her surprise they run their own cinema. And they have a mysterious piano man. After Nora’s mother’s death, Nora said she would never play the piano again. Nora doesn’t like the piano man, Alec, because at first he plays a haunting melody and she doesn’t know if it is sad or happy, but somehow Nora knows that she likes it. He also tries to be more of a friend to her than she wants him to be, so Nora tries to push him away.

Nora was someone who wouldn’t know anything about the fighting until one day her uncle’s brother, Jack, comes to her for help. He is an Irregular and he was in hiding because the Irregulars went against the regular Irish army and the people of Ireland did not like the Irregulars. Nora doesn’t know about Jack until later in the story. All she knows is that he is very ill and that he needs help. Jack makes Nora promise that she won’t tell her uncle or anyone else about where he is hiding. Nora knows that he needs a doctor but the only person she knows who won’t tell anyone about Jack is Alec - Alec was at medical school so he knows what to do with Jack.

The rest of the story is based on how Alec had to persuade Nora to start playing the piano again so they would have an excuse to be out where Jack was in hiding. So Nora agrees and she starts to play the piano again. Both Nora and Alec have to risk their lives trying to hide Jack. And towards the end, the book becomes very nerve wrecking as the real fighting begins and it shows just what some people did in Ireland to show what they believed in.

This book would be suitable for people who like stories based on the Irish civil war but are not too bothered about getting all the facts, as this book doesn’t give all the details. It is also suitable for teenagers who would like to see what it would be like to live that long ago at their age. I thought that this book was very good as it told me things about the Irish Civil War that I would never have known, such as the Irregulars and the way nobody was willing to help them. I think that this book did deserve to be shortlisted for ‘Bisto Book of the Year’ in 1995.

The writing and the idea of this book are brilliant and I think that you should read the follow-up to this book ‘Wash-Basin Street Blues: Nora in New York’.

Character Study on Nora
Nora is the main character in this story. She is a very independent and brave girl as she has to look after her mother and her two younger brothers when her mother is ill, as her father is a very drunken alcoholic. When Nora's mother dies, Nora expects that she would have to look after her two brothers and her father but she did not know that her father wanted her to go to her aunt's house, whom she has never met, to live with her.

Nora is very stubborn and when she goes to her aunt's house she promises herself that she will never be nice to them and that she will never, ever play the piano again, as she feels as though she was the one who caused her mother's death by playing so much, eventhough she was very good at it.

As the story goes on we see that Nora is very quick to make decisions, as when she first meets the piano man who plays at her aunt's and uncle's cinema, she is quick to say she doesn't like him and that she will probably never become good friends with him or that she will communicate with him unless she has to. Nora's stubborness doesn't get her very far as she doesn't make any friends her age in this story.

Nora also tries to be happy even if she thinks that her life is a mess and that she would like to be back in Dublin with her brothers and her mother even her drunken father. After a while Nora becomes more close to her aunt and she opens up more to her and begins to feel close to her.

Nora is also very courageous as she starts to look after an Irregular, her uncle's brother, Jack, who is in hiding. Nora knows that if she is caught she could be put in jail but she knows that Jack will die without her help so she is brave enough not to tell anyone eventhough she really wants to. When Nora realises that she can't do anymore for Jack she puts her own worries at the back of her mind and plucks up the courage to ask Alec to help her.

She and Alec have to come up with a plan to be outside all the time and the only way they could think of is that Alec is helping Nora to start playing the piano again. Nora here has to face her fears by doing something that she said she would never do again but she does so and this shows that she is very courageous and brave.

In the story Nora is very brave in many ways and risks her life to save Jack, proving that she does things that will help other people and that are not just good for herself. She also learns not to judge people straight away like she did with Alec, as Alec helped her to get back to the one thing that she loved and was really good at. Alec also named a melody after her that he composed himself. Nora now felt that someone did care about her, not just her aunt, and Nora kept playing the piano. She learned that if you make mistakes during a piece of music, don't stop, as mistakes happen and that it isn't just in music but in life also.

Character Study on Alec
When Alec is first introduced to this story he is made out as a drunk, as he was just after being thrown out of the pub. Alec is the piano man in the cinema that is run by Nora's aunt and uncle. Alec is different than most of the people in this town.

For one he wears much wider clothes than most people would have worn in those days. For instance, the day Nora first met him in his drunken state outside the pub, he was wearing a bright shabby cream-coloured suit, with a yellow dickey-bow. And he always wore a pair of black leather gloves that annoyed Nora, as he never took them off even when he was attending to Jack.

But whatever state Alec was in, drunk or not, he could play the piano perfectly, even with the leather gloves, which Nora thought would be impossible. He also told Nora of the times when he went to France to fight in the war and that he wished he had died over there as he felt that his life was useless here and that was why he was always drinking himself silly.

Alec always thought of himself as useless and this was why, at first, Nora disliked him. But after she got through to him, and after he had helped to make Jack better and got Nora back to playing the piano, he was nearly convincing himself that he was not so useless.

He was also very brave that one time when someone had given a lead as to where Jack was and Alec told Jack and got him away before the regular army came and took his place. When they did come they were firing bullets to where Alec was but he stayed there so Jack could get away. Alec could have died here but he stayed as he was willing to risk his life for a friend.

Alec did rise his life again for Jack which shows that he was willing to die. We learn that Alec is no stranger to war when he takes off his gloves which are war wretched. Nora can't believe that he plays the piano so well with hands and fingers like his and he doesn't even have a middle finger in his right hand. When Nora asks how he does it he just tells her if you believe in it you can do it, it doesn't matter what your hands look like.

Alec leaves the story by going to do what he always wanted to do and that was to go back to France and compose music, and hopes that someday he will come back when he is famous. He also gives the piece of music to Nora that she always heard him play. He told her he didn't have the sheets of the music for it but when he gave it to her it said at the top 'Melody for Nora by Alec Smithson'.

Violence in the Story
There is a lot of violence in this story as it is set at the time of the Irish Civil War. This war was caused when the War of Independence had ended and Michael Collins had signed a peace treaty. Ireland was supposed to be peaceful and the days of assassinations and terror were supposed to be over.

But some people didn't want to have the terms on what the treaty had signed and refused to recognise the new government and the regular army - they were forming a force known as the Irregulars.

One of the Irregulars is what this story is mainly based on, as Nora tries to help one in hiding. This shows that violence is so strong that she can't tell anyone as she knows that if she does she could be killed or the person she told could be killed. So Nora has to do all this in secret as Irregulars are so hated that anyone would tell on them.

The story has alot of fighting and bullets being shot, especially towards the end where we see that alot of people died in the last few chapters. At one stage, an army just came into a building and started shooting at all the doors and chairs, probably not caring who they could have killed.

I think that violence is a very strong point in this book as it has to be if it wants to be realistic as this was the way Ireland was during the Irish Civil War.

Reviewed by-
Clare Fannin,
Second Year,
Colaiste Muire,

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