The breathtaking short story collection from the Costa-shortlisted Irish writer
Three gunshots on the Irish border define the course of a young man's life; a writer clings fast to a star-crossed affair with a woman who has never been fully in his reach; a fisherman accustomed to hard labour rolls up his sleeves to dig a grave for his child; a pair of newly-weds embark on their first adventure, living wild on the deserted Beginish Island.
Spanning a century and two continents - from the muddy fields of Ireland to a hotel room in Paris, a dingy bar in Segovia to an aeroplane bound for Taipei - these densely layered tales reveal the quiet heroism and gentle dignity of ordinary life. Ranging from the elegiac to the brutally confrontational, Billy O'Callaghan's stories explore the resilience of the human heart and its ability to keep beating even in the wake of grief, trauma and lost love.
'The best fiction I have read this year... Taut, subtle and moving, and brought off beautifully' John Banville, Best Books of 2020, Irish Times
The best fiction I have read this year is Billy O'Callaghan's short-story collection The Boatman. The book is old-fashioned in the best sense, in that it is written by a grown-up for grown-up persons, as Virginia Woolf said of Middlemarch. The stories are taut, subtle and moving, and brought off beautifully.
Wonderful stories… A masterclass... The reader is lulled into a false sense of ordinariness that gives way — sometimes gradually, sometimes abruptly — to a moment of cataclysm…that leaves the reader reeling… There is no denying the power of his words… O’Callaghan’s stories are beautiful, plain and simple, and each one is devastatingly good.
Billy O'Callaghan writes beautifully... In evoking atmosphere, such a key element in the short story, he is matchless... His prose is a feast after a famine... The luxuriance of the language, the agility of the sentences, and the depth of the reflections. These stories are like classical sonatas... The writing is invariably delightful.
A shining example of how [short stories] can distil and intensify a writer’s gifts… These 12 stories confirm [O’Callaghan’s] delicate craftsmanship, unflashy narrative and descriptive skill, and his deep understanding of powerful and universal emotions… Breathtaking… Masterly… Irish writing has put out many new and more consciously modernist shoots in recent years, all welcome. But Billy O’Callaghan belongs now in the recognised front rank, along with Bernard MacLaverty, Edna O’Brien, William Trevor and Colm Tóibín.
[Billy O’Callaghan] makes epics out of the unspoken, the barely said, the half-hinted at, the wordless nod… This is O'Callaghan's quest, to reveal who his characters really are, especially when they're burdened with life's cruelties. And in chronicling the bravery sometimes required in simply putting one foot in front of the other, he makes heroes of the humblest of us.
We’ve gathered some of our favourite contemporary Irish love stories for you to curl up with. Whether you’re looking for family drama, or timeless love, we’ve got the perfect book.
It's shaping up to be a stellar year in Irish writing. We take a look at some of the best Irish fiction coming up in 2019 for your to-be-read pile, from Tana French to Billy O'Callaghan.
Irish writer Billy O’Callaghan is back with a devastatingly powerful new novel, My Coney Island Baby. Here Billy writes about the early loss of his brother, Richard, and how writing about it has changed the shape of his grief.