Title: Beneath The Veil
Author: Bernadette O’Connor
Published: February 28th 2019
Publisher: Karen McDermott
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Nobody knows what lies Beneath the Veil. Clara grows up haunted by the dark secrets of her past: a deadly betrayal, unspoken and unspeakable. Clara is too scared to speak her truth, knowing she will be condemned and punished by her brother or Father Stanley or Padraig McDermott. Her silence a betrayal of her soul. As she listens through the silence that surrounds her, the blood-stained truth engulfs her and her family. She must symbolically cleanse herself of her sins while the endless penance to God continues through abuse, humiliation and beatings, is anyone listening to her? Will Clara rise from the darkness of her past and free herself from the indoctrination of her remote Irish Catholic village? Can her gypsy soul awaken and ascend the power of her feminine?
‘For this is the truth and I knew I was here to expose what lies beneath the veil.’
Bernadette O’Connor is the author of Let’s Go Home, and her latest release, Beneath The Veil. A storyteller who is passionate about empowerment, her work as a Kinesiology Practitioner and Advanced Theta Healer has been instrumental in developing her writing style. Bernadette O’Connor is all about inspiring change. In her new novel, Beneath The Veil, O’Connor hopes to build a more compassionate mode of understanding around her subject matter, which concerns the abuse, as well as the healing journey of a young Irish woman.
Clara is the central protagonist of Beneath The Veil. The book is told primarily from Clara’s first person style of narration. As a result, we receive a thorough insight into Clara’s world. We experience her emotions, feelings, visions and experiences firsthand. We are also privy to her interactions with the other characters of the novel. When the book opens, Clara is an innocent seven year old girl, living in a remote Catholic village in Ireland. She is about to embark on an essential rite of passage for many catholic children, her holy communion. Only, we learn that Clara has been severely abused, she is the subject of continual violent abuse. As Clara sits bleeding through her communion robes, she is ignored by those that should be protecting her welfare. The abuse continues as the years go on, perpetrated by her own brother and ignored by her mother and sister. When Clara is married off to a much older man, a local farmer, she is again subjected to further abuse. Eventually, she connects with her dear aunt Maeve, a woman who we learn is also sadly yet another victim of abuse from the highest order. Maeve takes Clara under her wing and together they negotiate a pathway to healing and acceptance.
Bernadette O’Connor is a writer who is certainly gaining plenty of attention. Her debut novel, Let’s Go Home was recently chosen to be included in a set of swag bags given to fifty stars of the Oscar’s this year. This is an amazing achievement in itself, especially for a new Australian author. Beneath The Veil is a brave and fierce piece of fiction, addressing the abuse and trauma of victims of abuse. With the focus of the book being on the Catholic experience, it is perhaps a book that has some weight to bear, especially in the wake of the case against Cardinal George Pell. In fact, Bernadette O’Connor was recently asked to pen an open letter about these developments, titled ‘The Suppression is Lifted It’s Time To Rise’. In this letter, O’Connor opens up about her life being raised in the centre of a parish rocked by a child sex abuse scandal.
Before I go on any further with my review, I must issue a trigger warning for Beneath The Veil. This book does contain very heavy, dark and emotional themes. There are scenes in this book that outline detailed physical and emotional violence against women and children, sexual abuse and incest. For this reason, readers may need to approach this book with caution.
I have to be honest and say Beneath The Veil is perhaps one of the hardest books I have read. Although I have not been directly impacted by the experience of abuse, which the main character and her aunt suffer in the novel, I had a very heavy and unexpected emotional response to this book. There were times I couldn’t go on, I closed it, walked away and I did feel physically unwell. The themes are dark and heavy. The despair, denial, lack of help and the list goes on, moved me to somewhere where I didn’t feel very comfortable at all. Perhaps this is a stark reminder and life lesson, what I felt as a reader was only a drop in the ocean as to what trauma does to those such as the character of Clara.
As much as this testimony in the form of a fiction novel to the experiences of abuse, Beneath The Veil offers a very insightful commentary on small town Irish village life, religion, social beliefs, moral codes, family practices, inheritance, hierarchy, patriarchal governance and Irish culture. I did find the scenes based in the Magdalene Laundry very interesting and I was inspired to read up on these type of establishments in the future.
On the other side of this novel, which is the focus of the latter half of the book, is the incredulous journey to regaining control, faith, reclaiming life and opening up to love in the wake of such a horrific life experience. Bernadette O’Connor explores the Gypsy life, complete with mystical themes and the practice of paganism as a way to cleanse the soul. This pathway to healing was an interesting one to follow, it definitely expanded my mind. O’Connor offers a parting message of hope, in the face of such overwhelming suppression and hurt.
Beneath The Veil is a book that cuts deep, exposing a world of abuse, corruption, and the gross misuse of power. It puts a face to and legitimises feelings of shame and guilt experienced by the most vulnerable. Beneath The Veil is a truthful and confronting novel, about the depths of human nature to endure.
To learn more about the author of Beneath The Veil, Bernadette O’Connor, visit here.
*I wish to thank the author, Bernadette O’Connor, for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
Beneath The Veil is book #28 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge