House of Names by Colm Toibin

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My review of Colm Toibin’s House of Names (Viking) appears in today’s Sunday Business Post Magazine. It’s the usual deal with the Iron Paywall, but voila, a brief extract:

Myths, as the philosopher John Gray reminds us, are not the same as fantasies. Where fantasies console (think of the festival of happy endings that concludes The Lord of the Rings), myths encode harsh knowledge about the truth of our condition. The Greek myths – particularly those that tell the stories of doomed families – have proved lastingly attractive to artists who are interested in uncovering this harsh knowledge – who are dedicated, in other words, to pursuing higher forms of consolation. […] Colm Toibin is one such artist […] House of Names retells the guts of several Greek tragedies, chiefly Aeschylus’s Oresteia and Euripides’s Iphigenia at Aulis and Electra […] Toibin displays a remarkable gift for telling tales. It is the final proof of his mastery that he has made the frozen statues of this endlessly retold myth come, once more, to life.


The Dead House by Billy O’Callaghan

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My review of The Dead House (Brandon) by Billy O’Callaghan appears in today’s Sunday Business Post Magazine. Here’s an excerpt:

In many ways, the ghost story is as traditional a literary form as the sonnet. There must be a skeptical narrator (check), a haunted edifice (check) with a history of violence (check), an ill-thought-through attempt to communicate with the dead (check), peculiar behaviour (check), characters who are receptive to messages from the spirit-world (check), and – most difficult of all to handle – a sense that the deepest truths are just out of sight, beyond the narrator’s (and the reader’s) ken. O’Callaghan – who has already published three collections of short fiction – handles each of these elements with restrained aplomb. “Traditional,” when it comes to ghost stories, is not a term of disapprobation, and The Dead House fulfils its formal obligations with subtlety and grace […] O’Callaghan’s descriptive prose reaches impressive heights, as when Michael notices “in one of the two small bedrooms [of the cottage] the whitened remnants of something bigger, a dog or fox, but now just a kindling of bones splayed in the natural order of its undisturbed collapse.”