Fiction Book Group - Life Sentences, Billy O'Callaghan

April 2022 Fiction

The April Fiction Book Group will be meeting via Zoom

Monday, April 11th • 6:30 PM ET / 11:30 PM IST via Zoom
Session open to all, no registration required.

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The sweeping story of one Irish family’s fight for survival makes for an unforgettable tale of love, abandonment, hunger, and redemption.

At just sixteen, Nancy Martin leaves the small island of Cape Clear for the mainland, the only member of her family to survive the effects of the Great Famine. Finding work in a grand house on the edge of Cork City, she is irrepressibly drawn to the charismatic gardener Michael Egan, sparking a love affair and a devastating chain of events that continues to unfold over three generations.

Spanning more than a century, Billy O’Callaghan’s weaves together the journey of an Irish family determined against all odds to be free. In 1920, Nancy’s son Jer has lived through battles of his own as a soldier in the Great War. Now drunk in a jail cell, he struggles to piece together where he has come from, and who he wants to be. And in the early 1980s, Jer’s youngest child Nellie is nearing the end of her life in a council house just steps away from her childhood home; remembering the night when she and her family stole back something that was rightfully theirs, she imagines what lies ahead for those who will survive her.

This moving portrait of life in Ireland is set in the village where O’Callaghan’s family has lived for generations, and is partly based on stories told by his parents and grandparents. His writing is imbued with lived experience and hard-earned truths, creating a novel so rich in life and empathy it is impossible to let go of his characters. An ambitious and lyrical family saga, this novel confirms Billy O’Callaghan as one of the finest living Irish writers.

“O’Callaghan writes with a bright, enlivening emotional palette and a penetrating eye for the details of family history. A deeply felt and distinctive work by a real craftsman.”
— Kirkus

“O’Callaghan has done a brilliant job of capturing the ethos of the Irish setting as we see it through the beautifully created lives of his characters, who are extraordinary, as is this timeless book about them.”
— Booklist

“Inspired by stories from his own family history, O’Callaghan delivers a slim novel that is thick with memory and regret. The hard lives of the Martins leave readers with an indelible impression of Irish history.”
— Publishers Weekly

“His prose is a feast after a famine… Invariably delightful.”
— Irish Times

“A thoughtful, slow-motion novel, an antidote to the tics and quips of some millennial fiction.”
— The Spectator (U.K.)

“The reader is invested from the start . . . So poetically elegant as to be breathtaking . . . writing at its finest.”
— New York Journal of Books

Billy O'Callaghan

About the Author
Billy O’Callaghan is the author of four short story collections (In ExileIn Too DeepThe Things We LoseThe Things We Leave Behind, and The Boatman) and the novels The Dead House and My Coney Island Baby. His work has been translated into a dozen languages and earned him numerous honours, including three Bursary Awards for Literature from the Arts Council of Ireland and, in 2013, a Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Award for the Short Story of the Year. His short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in literary journals and magazines around the world, including: Absinthe: New European WritingAgniBellevue Literary ReviewChattahoochee ReviewConfrontationFiddleheadHayden’s Ferry ReviewKenyon ReviewKyoto JournalLondon MagazineLos Angeles ReviewNarrativePloughshares, Salamander, and Saturday Evening Post. Mr. O’Callaghan lives in Cork, Ireland.

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