It tells the story of seven sisters with outlandish names (I particularly fell for Pertilly and Manticory) and even more outlandish hair which, in the age of Millais's Ophelia, makes them popular with men of a slightly grubby, fetishistic persuasion, a couple of whom see a business opportunity and proceed to exploit the poor backwoods girls mercilessly. They are not alone, however: demonic eldest sister, Darcy - who, in a surreal twist late in the book, actually becomes physically diabolical - is a stunning literary villain, and from the very beginning, the reader's heart aches for her comeuppance. But this is just one of the many strands, woven like a lustrous auburn plait into a complex plot, that urges you through Manticory's narrative to the explosive denouement.
The characters themselves are key here, and all fulfil their given roles beautifully. Each sister is, if anything, slightly two dimensional (and in a few cases, personality is little more than plot device) but this seems to me to be purposeful: seven varied personalities makes for one whole, complex entity, and I do feel that author Michelle Lovric wanted the girls to be nothing alone, but to function purely as part of a greater whole.
The Harristown Sisters will not tax you overly, but equally is more than just froth. It has something to say (perhaps about the eternal exploitation of women, perhaps about society's worship of the physical and vacuous, perhaps about the complexity of familial and romantic relationships...) but is above all, a beautifully written (I love the slow crows and thin geese), right rollicking adventure through poverty to wealth and back again, from Ireland to Venice and back again.
If Christmas is starting to take up all your time, and you need a book that will transport you from mundane everyday nonsense without feeling like you are feasting on cotton wool, this is perfect. Enjoy.