“The unforgettable tale of love, abandonment, hunger and redemption, from the Irish writer who ‘grips from the opening page’.”
~ Bernard MacLaverty
Life Sentences is a new novel from Billy O’Callaghan.
“At just sixteen, Nancy 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, Life Sentences is the unforgettable journey of a family hungry for redemption, and determined against all odds to be free.
This sweeping story of one family’s fight for survival goes on making the heart lurch long after the final page, and confirms Billy O’Callaghan as one of the finest living Irish writers.”
Life Sentences was published by Jonathan Cape on the 14th January 2021, and is available from local bookshops, as well as Bookshop.org, Blackwell’s, Foyles, Amazon, Hive, The Book Depository and Waterstones.
“A superb and moving novel…. O’Callaghan is one of our finest writers, in the tradition of John McGahern and Brian Friel, and this is his best work yet.”
~ John Banville
“A book that stops you in your tracks so you can savour its utter beauty… O’Callaghan is amongst the finest storytellers and wordsmiths in Ireland today.”
~ Anne Griffin
“Billy O’Callaghan’s writing is so good and true it feels almost magical; Life Sentences is a beautiful book, a small epic, a joy.”
~ Sadie Jones
“[An] epic story… Life Sentences is a beautiful novel.”
~ Eithne Shortall
“O’Callaghan weaves together a narrative that is compelling and dazzlingly rendered… to pay tribute to the lives of those who came before us through finely wrought sentences… and brings a poet’s sensitivity to the descriptions of such suffering.”
~ James Moran
“An absolutely stunning book… A truly beautiful read.”
~ Sinéad Moriarty
“The strength of Life Sentences lies in its long range but intimate style… A reader could profitably finish the book and go straight back to its beginning, like Finnegans Wake.”
~ John Self
“The accomplished writer… O’Callaghan has proved an empathic and expert diviner of the extraordinary in ordinary lives.”
~ Marjorie Brennan
“Eminently readable… My book of the year so far”
~ Ryan Tubridy
The Boatman and Other Stories
The Boatman and Other Stories is Billy’s latest short story collection.
“In these twelve quietly dazzling, carefully crafted stories, Billy O’Callaghan explores the resilience of the human heart and its ability to keep beating even in the wake of grief, trauma and lost love.
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 – The Boatman follows an unforgettable cast of characters. 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.
Ranging from the elegiac to the brutally confrontational, these densely layered tales reveal the quiet heroism and gentle dignity of ordinary life. O’Callaghan is a master celebrant of the smallness of the human flame against the dark: its strength, and its steady brightness.”
“A master of the short story.”
~ John Banville, Irish Times “Books of the Year”.
“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.”
~ Kathleen MacMahon, Sunday Times.
“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.”
~ Eilis Ni Dhuibhne, Irish Times.
“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.”
~Ann Chisholm, Tablet, “Novel of the Week”.
“[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.”
~ Anne Cunningham, Sunday Independent.
“There is marrow in The Boatman and Other Stories… [With] unforced gravity and lyricism… O’Callaghan is a reliably consummate performer, and these stories focus on the glimmer of heart in the hardness of life.”
~ Phil Baker, Sunday Times.
“A master of the form… O’Callaghan’s descriptive powers are wonderful… O’Callaghan keeps the reader coming back for more, proving himself a master of the hook, one devastating line that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and refuses to let go.”
~ John Walshe, Sunday Business Post.
“Deeply affecting stories…and deeply attentive to the perils and poignancies of daily life… nuanced, moving—an impressive collection.”
~ Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“O’Callaghan is…a wellspring of great story ideas, and this imagination is writ large across The Boatman & Other Stories… O’Callaghan’s sense of place is vivid and impressive… John Banville, Edna O’Brien and John Boyne are all effusive in their praise for O’Callaghan’s muscular, quietly assured writing.”
~ Tanya Sweeney, Irish Independent.
“Allow this collection of short stories to sweep you away… Each poignant story in this collection grips you… What better way to devastate the reader than to show just how happy people can be?”
~ Irish Country Magazine
My Coney Island Baby
Billy’s new novel, My Coney Island Baby, will be published by Jonathan Cape in the UK, as well as Harper Collins (USA), Grasset (France), Jelenkor (Hungary), Ediciones Salamandra (Spain), L’Altra Editorial (Catalonia), Ambo Anthos (Netherlands), Paseka (Czech Republic), btb Verlag (Germany) and Guanda (Italy).
“On a bitterly cold winter’s afternoon, Michael and Caitlin escape their unhappy marriages to keep an illicit rendezvous. Once a month, for the past quarter of a century, Coney Island has been their haven.
These precious, hidden hours are their only nourishment. But now, amid the howling of an angry snowstorm, the shut-down, out-of-season resort feels like the edge of the world. And their lives, suddenly, are on the brink – with news of serious illness on one side, and a move to the Midwest on the other. And so, after half a lifetime spent in secret, certain long-avoided facts need to be faced, consequences examined, decisions made, and – perhaps – chances finally taken.
A quiet, intense drama of late-flowering intimacy, My Coney Island Baby condenses, within the course of a single day, the histories, landscapes, tragedies and moments of wonder that constitute the lives of two people who, although born worlds apart, have been drawn together.
O’Callaghan, a masterful prose stylist whose fiction carries an enormous and unusual emotional heft, has created a devastatingly powerful novel, cinematic in feel and scope, about two unforgettable characters and the choices they have made. This is a book full of sorrow, but also radiant with beauty, longing and breathless desire.”
“Billy O’Callaghan’s new novel grips from the opening page. The stride of his sentences is long and powerful, his vision raw. A spectrum of intensities from grief to love is revealed as relationships unfold with an honesty that is utterly believable.”
~ Bernard MacLaverty
“Novel of the year is My Coney Island Baby, by Billy O’Callaghan, a lush, precise, poetic account of a love affair that ends the way most love affairs do. We knew O’Callaghan to be a master of the short story, and here he shows the grand reach of his powers as a novelist.”
~ John Banville, Irish Times “Books of the Year”.
“O’Callaghan [has made a] significant achievement in this fine novel.”
~ Sunday Times
“Quiet, subtle and deeply moving… This is a fine novel, with elegance and wisdom lying beneath an unpretentious surface and O’Callaghan, a gifted writer, has managed to do that most difficult of things: take a quiet, almost everyday story and transform it into a thing of beauty.”
~ Irish Times
“O’Callaghan’s prose reaches a pitch of emotional intensity that ensures these characters will linger with you long after the book is closed.”
~ The Guardian
“This is not an epic novel. There are no heroes. It is the story of two ordinary people trapped in their ordinary lives. But in the hands of O’Callaghan it is magnified to the truly extraordinary. A great tragedy.”
~ Sunday Independent
“In simple but elegant language, O’Callaghan presents an intricate look inside a relationship… beautifully expressed by this fine chronicler of inner worlds.”
~ Irish Examiner (USA)
“An impressive work… The prose [is] exceptional, elegiac and eloquent in conveying insight and sympathy for the small cast’s two main players as they face an uncertain future.”
~ Kirkus Reviews, starred review.
“An attentive portraitist, [O’Callaghan] writes beautifully, and at length, about gestures, glances and other fleeting moments… A small story told at close range, My Coney Island Baby is suffused with great, painful beauty.”
~ Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Vividly rendered… O’Callaghan excels at painting a portrait of physical and emotional isolation.”
~ Publishers Weekly
The Dead House
‘The Dead House’, published by Brandon Books (an imprint of O’Brien Press), and in the US by Arcade/Skyhorse.
Attempting to rebuild her life after a violent relationship, Maggie Turner, a successful young artist, moves from London to Allihies and buys an ancient abandoned cottage. Keen to concentrate on her art, she is captivated by the wild beauty of her surroundings.
After renovations, she hosts a house-warming weekend for friends. A drunken game with a Ouija board briefly descends into something more sinister, as Maggie apparently channels a spirit who refers to himself simply as ‘The Master’. The others are visibly shaken, but the day after the whole thing is easily dismissed as the combination of suggestion and alcohol.
Maggie immerses herself in her painting, but the work devolves, day by day, until her style is no longer recognisable. She glimpses things, hears voices, finds herself drawn to certain areas: a stone circle in the nearby hills, the reefs at the west end of the beach behind her home… A compelling modern ghost story from a supremely talented writer.
“…still you keep reading, half-believing that dark forces are stirring, the way you might feel a planchette sliding across a Ouija board. Is it really happening? Or are you convincing yourself there’s more going on here than there really is? Either way, you enjoy the creepy thrill.”
~ New York Times, 3rd June 2018. (USA)
“O’Callaghan combines his gift at describing settings… with subtle suggestions that something unnatural is going on. Fans of psychological thrillers with a ghostly undercurrent will be richly rewarded.”
~ Publishers Weekly, March 2018. (USA) (starred review)
“A solid addition to the treasury of camp-fire ghost stories… The past in The Dead House is “thick as tar,” as one character puts it, and its evils are content to bide their time, waiting for unwary visitors.”
~ Wall Street Journal, May 2018. (USA)
“Already renowned for a collection of short stories, Billy O’Callaghan casts a fearful gaze into the world of supernatural occurrences in this striking debut… O’Callaghan delves deep into the fragile aspects of the psyche, and there is a doom-laden air to in his sentences. Yet his 214-page tale flows with a certain ease and draws you in…”
~ RTE.ie Culture, 2017.
“A skilful, entertaining piece of work: a traditional ghost story in the best possible sense, The Dead House fulfils its formal obligations with subtlety and grace.”
~ Sunday Business Post, 2017.
The Things We Lose, The Things We Leave Behind
‘The Things We Lose, The Things We Leave Behind’ (collection of short stories), published by New Island, September 2013, is now out of print. It is available in Chinese from CITIC Press.
The stories in Billy O Callaghan’s new collection, The Things We Lose, The Things We Leave Behind, explore how people in crisis can pick up the shattered pieces of their lives and find among them some glint of worth. An institutionalised orphan boy in 1950s Ireland is sold into servitude as a farm labourer. A once-renowned Sevillano matador falls, in a single misstep, into obscurity. A grief-stricken father struggles with the notion of reality. And a man returns home after years of exile to see the child he abandoned long ago once again. In sinuous, evocative prose, O Callaghan weaves an emotionally truthful narrative thread of hope and redemption in the face of adversity. The thirteen stories in this stunning new collection attempt to illuminate the darkness.
“O’Callaghan’s ability to use words to convey emotion is astonishing. He can draw you into each story in a few sentences, the words coming up from the page and wrapping around you, transmitting that emotion, the aching from the core of the piece into the reader themselves… a delight to read, with strong, immediate prose, a distinctive style that becomes a thing of beauty.”
~ The Red Curtain, November 2013.
“Billy O’Callaghan’s The Things We Lose, The Things We Leave Behind [is a] masterclass in understatement…”
~ Irish Independent, essay on the Irish Short Story, November 2013.
“This is a stunning collection, powerful and lyrical, with stories that unfold, not just in the finely crafted words and sentences, but also in the gaps and silences.”
~ Southword, December 2013.
‘In Too Deep’ (a short story collection), published by Mercier Press, July 2009, is now out of print.
“O’Callaghan flexes his literary muscle with the grace of a dancer.”
~ The Stinging Fly, spring 2010.
“There’s a fine art hugeness about the whole canon that however never lacks for intimacy.”
~ Ireland’s Literary Free Press, critical essay, 2011.
‘In Exile’ (a short story collection), published by Mercier Press, June 2008, is now out of print.
“The landscapes and seascapes of Ireland form both backdrop and foreground in this collection… they speak of an Ireland that in some respects is long gone but in others has a modern resonance.”
~ The Irish Emigrant, July 2008.
“Traditional and hard-edged yarns about down-at-heel characters, wasters, mean, uncouth, insensitive… O’Callaghan is an award-winner, and he will win many more…”
~ The Sunday Tribune, July 2008.
“O’Callaghan writes evocatively of a way of life that has become memory rather than reality… he demonstrates an affinity with people and place which is tender but never trite, and invariably rewards the reader with a surprising twist.”
~ The Irish Times, January 2009.
“The artistry… is spellbinding. O’Callaghan has injected his characters with enough resignation to make their failures believable, but enough emotion to convince us the failures are tragedies, not merely bad luck.”
~ Hudson Review (USA), critical essay, summer 2009.