Book Review: 'The Dead House' by Billy O'Callaghan

I’ve been following author Billy O’Callaghan’s career with rapt enthusiasm, since I fortuitously came across him online, last year. That he is Irish caught my attention, and as I delved further, I discovered he is the author of three short story collections, all of which I’ve read, all of which, to me, are in their own league and genre of what can only be classified as literary excellence. And so it was that I awaited the March, 2017 release of 'The Dead House,' O’Callaghan’s first novel, and subsequently tore through it in three sittings. It’s the type of book you can’t put down, yet when you do, it stays with you.

In a first-person voice unlike any other I’ve come across, O’Callaghan gifts us with a story that unfolds in just the way you’d want to hear it by the fireside: it is confessional, it is insightful, it is no-nonsense and direct, yet wields evocative words slipped in so seamlessly that the reader is pulled into the fantastic story in cresting waves that move the story forward, while explaining the inner workings of the narrator’s vantage point. The reader understands the narrator, art dealer Michael Simmons, right out of the gate. He lays his cards on the table with no apology as he tells about his client, young, vulnerable, and frail painter, Maggie Turner, with whom he cultivates a mentor-like relationship verging on that of siblings, as he guides her career. That Michael is devoted to Maggie’s overall well-being helps us understand his acceptance of her capricious tendencies, and so it is that when Maggie decides to move from London to an isolated, desolate seaside location on Ireland’s rugged west coast, Michael has reservations, yet chalks them up to her artistic temperament needing artistic space.

'The Dead House' is centered on one fateful night, during a weekend house party at Maggie’s renovated, pre-Famine, Irish cottage that involves a small group of friends, a bottle of whiskey, and a Ouija board. Everything careens in spine-tingling plausibility from there, in a dynamic that begins in seemingly harmless fun, yet quickly turns off-kilter with unintended consequences that sneak up over the readers shoulder with such disturbance that this book is best not read at night. And yet I’d be hard-pressed to label 'The Dead House' a ghost story; though it is that, it is more. It is a treatise on friendship, a look at the ambiguity of new love, a tip-of-the-hat to Ireland’s storied past, and a lyrical love song to the unfathomable beauty of Ireland’s haunted, windswept terrain.

Let me now confess something I’ve never done before, after reading the last line of this book: I went back to the first page and began again. The reason I did this is I was nowhere near ready or willing to let the narrator’s voice go; I was too invested, I was too concerned, and the fact that the story is so suspenseful that I read it with white-knuckled urgency made me fully aware, even as I read, that I simply had to go back and revisit its artful language. I’ll site an example of O’Callaghan’s genius with language here: “Another Sunday. Christ, the fools that time can make of us.” But I’m gushing. Because O’Callaghan deserves it.

All praise  'The Dead House.' Do yourself a favor and get ahold of this book. It will be available in America come spring of 2018, but, if you’re American, you can do as I did, and order it online through its publisher, O’Brien Press. 

Claire Fullerton is the author of 'Dancing to an Irish Reel,' and 'A Portal in Time.' Her third novel, 'Mourning Dove,' will be released in early 2018.

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Tags: Author, Book, Fiction, Irish, Novel, Review, Reviews

Comment by Fran Reddy on June 21, 2017 at 10:38am

Even your book reviews are artfully worded and intriguing Claire! You make me want to read The Dead House with this wonderful review! ; )

Hope you're having a wonderful summer!

Comment by Claire Fullerton on June 21, 2017 at 10:43am

Thank you, Fran! Yes, I've been very busy, as I'm writing my 4th novel, and waiting for the 2018 release of my third, which means soon enough, I'll be in edits. But I always think of TWG, and hope you read this book by O'Callaghan. It's my suspicion he'll be the next literary sensation to come out of Ireland, mark my words. He's currently winning one literary award after another. Pretty good, for a man from Cork! Slainte! 

Comment by Richard R. Mc Gibbon Jr. on July 31, 2017 at 2:56pm

Aye, Claire's reviews give one no pause to go about purchasing this book,... Claire have you ever tried sales ??Jakkers colleen you could sell water to a drowning man.  ;-)   Slainte

Comment by Claire Fullerton on July 31, 2017 at 4:09pm

Now this is funny! And yes, there's not an author on the planet who doesn't know their way around the dog-and-pony business of sales. But, Richard, do read The Dead House. I'm convinced Billy O'Callaghan is one of the most important literary figures to arrive on the world stage in ages. 

Comment by Richard R. Mc Gibbon Jr. on July 31, 2017 at 6:06pm

My Uncle and some of my cousins (the Murphy side of the family) are morticians, but I don't think this is the type of Dead House the book is about. And I will be going on a wee vacation and this looks like a good read to bring along when I have had all the conversation I can take with family members.  If I have a good book and my guitar I am always in a grand place where the craic is ninety!   Slainte

Comment by Claire Fullerton on July 31, 2017 at 6:25pm

I also have cousins with the surname Murphy. Coincidence? Be sure to order this book from O'Brien's before you go on vacation! I'd love to hear your review.

Comment by Richard R. Mc Gibbon Jr. on July 31, 2017 at 6:55pm

Murphy is a rather large family but I would like to think that maybe we are distant cousins too.  My grand da (a police officer) always had a grand story to tell and when my grand mother would try to interject some facts my grand da would say that this Murphy family had a long history as seanachie's (story tellers) and the story was always told they way it was told on that particular evening and could change if the situation would warrant it. That usually ended the discussion, not that my grand mother thought that he had won, but simply put, she liked his stories but loved seeing a vein in his forehead throb a wee bit !   ;-)   Slainte  


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