This book held my interest initially when the mother, Dilly, is a young girl and travels against her parents' wishes to America. The descriptions of what life was like for a young domestic were illuminating and offered interesting food for thought on the class structure (Irish emigrees still subjugating their own countrymen). And the letters from Dilly to her daughter, Eleanora, were real and full of life.
Sadly, all of the novel that centers on Eleanora and her sad life is just empty in feel--I couldn't wait to be finished reading those sections. If, metaphorically, O'Brien wishes for the reader to see Dilly as the one full of life despite her impending death, then she succeeded. Otherwise, this novel simply fails on almost all levels to be either an enjoyable read or a book with any true enlightenment about the mother/daughter relationship.