Two elderly sisters, Ella and Roberta O’Callaghan, live in an old mansion in dire need of upkeep in County Wicklow, Ireland. They haven’t spoken aloud to each other for decades, only leaving either terse or angry notes for the other as needed. After a costly repair, Ella decides to open up part of the home as a café to raise some money so the sisters can keep their home. Roberta is aghast but can do little about it.
The tearoom becomes popular right away, in part because people in the community haven’t seen inside Roscarbury Hall for decades and are curious about how it looks — and how the sisters are faring. Ella isn’t thrilled to be more open to gossip from people in the village, but she’s managing. She makes a friend in a younger woman, Debbie, who comes to the village for a few weeks from America, seeking her birth mother. Debbie makes visits to the convent nearby, pressing the nuns there for information about the woman who gave birth to her, and she begins working for Ella in the café.
Debbie’s presence is a boon for Ella, even as her search for answers from the convent opens up some old wounds from Ella’s past: It turns out the convent didn’t handle adoptions completely above-board, and the results upend many people’s lives.
The Secrets of Roscarbury Hall is another novel that explores the tragic legacy of convents, particularly in Ireland, that mistreated unwed mothers and often took their babies against their will. The main characters have experienced a lot of pain, much unresolved, and the book doesn’t tie it all up in a neat bow at the end, but it does allow some growth and the promise of peace and greater happiness. I enjoyed it but it won’t necessarily stick with me.
Rated: Mild, for about a dozen instances of mild and moderate profanity and a few uses of the name of Deity in vain. Sexual content is mild, with a few places where characters were having sex but no details or they were kissing and hands roamed, very briefly. Violence includes two characters committing suicide.