The premise for this collection of stories is pretty interesting and right in my wheelhouse for a type of novel I often like. Emma Donoghue is mostly known for her novel Room and for good and obvious reasons. But her background as a writer in much more involved in historical fiction ala Sarah Waters. And also, she is Irish-Canadian and have a PhD, so well-researched trans-Atlantic literature is a perfect fit.
I really liked her novel from this past year The Wonder and so this one was not a surprise. I think the parts are much better than the whole and none of the stories is particularly profound, but over all it’s an interesting book.
The premise is that Emma Donoghue took researched incidents involving British Isles immigrants to North America and extrapolated fictional stories from the smallish historical records that do exist. A few journal entries from an elephant handler turns into a passionate plea for animal welfare, the newspaper snippets around a post-Civil War counterfeiting case from the Secret Service turns into an undercover mission, a fight over a gold claim in the Yokon. Etc etc etc.
Over all, I like this type of genre. I guess you could call this multi-narrative or multi-generational narratives based around some kind of connection point. Many novels focus on families like Homegoing or Barkskins or The Son while others focus on a town as in Faulkner or Louise Erdrich or Mary Lee Settle.
The hardest part in all these novels is creating authentic voices: check. But also creating balanced and equally meaningful stories: check minus.