“Ireland is a country haunted by its past. In Billy O’Callaghan’s hands, its terrible beauty becomes a force of inescapable horror that reaches far back in time, before the Famine, before Christianity, to a pagan place where nature and superstition are bound in an endless knot.” — Publisher’s blurb
How could I not read at least one ghost story in Reading Ireland month? For my 5th selection in my Reading Ireland challenge, I chose an atmospheric tale of the supernatural set on the rugged west coast of Ireland. But this is more than a tale of the supernatural. It is a tale of evil, of desperation, of things older than time.
The protagonist of this story is art dealer/agent Michael Simmons. He begins relating his tale from the comfort and contentment of his present home in Cornwall, which he shares with his beloved wife, Allison, and his young daughter, Hannah.
He tells of his life nine years previously when he was still single and working every hour that God sent his way. One of the artists he mentored, a young woman named Maggie, had recently been viciously assaulted by her partner. Still recovering, and wanting to put much space between her and the site of her attack, she drives to Ireland. While touring in Allihies, she spies a derelict coastal cottage and falls in love with its isolation, its presence. Surely this will be the perfect place to take up her art once again. She asks Mike for a loan and proceeds to ‘do up’ the old cottage. When it is habitable once again she asks Mike and two of her female friends to spend the weekend there as a sort of housewarming party. The weekend is a resounding success – filled with warmth, laughter and companionship, until the final evening there when one of the women guests suggests a séance. Things happen that night that none of the people in attendance want to acknowledge.
Later, back in London, Mike begins to worry that he has not heard much from Maggie. He decides to take a much needed break from work and drive up to County Cork to check on her. What he finds is disturbing to say the least – and what follows is enough to chill the warmest heart.
“History here is a stew of fact and fable.”
The setting of this novel is one that positively breeds superstition. With history predating any records, with a ring of standing stones, a menacing spirit, and an “aura of ancient magic“, it has all the qualities of the very best ghost stories.
“An bhfuil cead agam teacht isteach.”
Some ghost stories are hokey, some are grim. This one, despite it being a debut novel, was the sort that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand to attention. If it was a movie I would surely have held a pillow up before my face whilst watching it – only to have nightmares afterward. WOW!
I would not hesitate to read another novel by this author and cannot wait to see what he has in store for his readers next time…
“The Dead House” was Longlisted for the 2019 International DUBLIN Literary AwardThis review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Arcade Publishing via NetGalley. ISBN: 9781628729139 – ASIN: B073VXFF69 203 pages
Billy O’Callaghan was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1974, and is the author of three short story collections: ‘In Exile’ (2008) and ‘In Too Deep’ (2009), both published by Mercier Press, and ‘The Things We Lose, the Things We Leave Behind’ (2013) published by New Island Books, which won a Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Award and which is forthcoming in a Chinese translation from CITIC Press in the summer of 2017.
“The Dead House” is his first novel.
His stories have been broadcast nationally on RTÉ Radio’s ‘The Book on One’, Sunday Miscellany and the Francis MacManus Awards series, and have appeared in more than 100 magazines and literary journals around the world.