By: Mike McCormack
Narrator: Dan Murphy
Publisher: Soho Press
Publication Date: 01/02/2024
My Rating: 4 Stars (ARC)
Mike McCormack’s first novel since the single-sentence Booker-listed literary sensation Solar Bones, winner of the Goldsmith’s Prize, the BGE Irish Book of the Year Award, and the International Dublin Literary Award Exchanging the cascading lyricism of Solar Bones for a terse and brooding noir style, This Plague of Souls was named a most anticipated book of 2023 by The Guardian, The Irish Times, and The New Statesman
After a period of imprisonment, Nealon returns to an empty house in the west of Ireland to find his wife and young son missing. Then he gets a call from a man who claims to know what’s happened to them—a man who’ll tell Nealon all he needs to know in return for a single meeting.
In a hotel lobby, in the shadow of an unfolding terrorist attack, Nealon and the man embark on a conversation shot through with secrets and unknown dangers, a verbal game of cat and mouse that ranges from Nealon’s past and crimes to Ireland’s place in the world order to the location of his family.
This Plague of Souls is another ambitious and formally daring masterwork from one of the most exciting novelists working today.
The author of the award-winning novel (2016) Solar Bones, Mike McCormack, returns with THIS PLAGUE OF SOULS, a haunting literary/noirish metaphysical suspense novel of a man whose past comes back to haunt him when he returns to his rural Ireland home.
This Plague of Souls is also set in County Mayo, Ireland, in an isolated cottage in the shadow of Mweelrea Mountain.
Nealson (an artist) is returning to his home after being away in prison. His wife and son are gone. The house he grew up in with his father and never knew his mother. We do not know exactly at first what Nealon has done, but it was crime-related and possible insurance fraud, skimming insurance policies to fund altruistic works.
It is dark and empty. His wife, Olwyn, and son, Cuan, are missing. We get flashbacks from their earlier life. Memories...What has gone on, and what is happening?
But now the only voice he hears is a mystery man. He has been incarcerated for some time but was released following the collapse of his trial. He was not found innocent, and now, there was a strange phone call.
The anonymous caller knows who Nealon is and where the main switch is in his house. He wants to meet. He is drawn into a sinister game of cat and mouse with the mysterious cryptic caller.
The stranger on the phone claims to know where Olwyn and Cuan are but will only reveal their whereabouts if Nealon meets him in person.
Why meet, and what is this about? But the person seems to know things. Then begins sort of a pre-apocalyptic or supernatural flow.
Even though THIS PLAGUE OF SOULS is a standalone it connects with his previous book. Both books reference corruption, mortality, disease, plagues, terrorist events, wars, power, coercion, activism, and signs of what will come— from heartbreak, terror, and menace to the possible world collapse.
The novel is difficult to describe without giving too much away, but it crosses genres from literary suspense and thriller to dystopian as the book progresses. Things are beyond the MC's control as he considers fatherhood and family.
The prose and writing are evocative, beautiful, and spellbinding, as is the audiobook narrator's performance by Dan Murphy, which draws you into the vivid landscape of the Irish countryside.
Divided into three parts, the last third part gives you the creeps. The novel's third part features the other version of the world, which is in crisis—a descent into darkness. Do not expect to tie up all loose ends, but a fitting ending.
A talented author, THIS PLAGUE OF SOULS is haunting, eerie, and sinister —an unsettling noir, philosophical, and thought-provoking as much as lyrical and mesmerizing. I look forward to reading more of this author's work.
Thanks to Recorded Books and NetGalley for the pleasure of a gifted ALC in exchange for an honest opinion. I recommend the audiobook, which transports you!
@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks
Pub Date: Jan 2, 2024
My Rating: 4 Stars
The Times Literary Supplement Best Books of the Year 2023
The New Statesman Best Books of the Year 2023
Lit Hub’s Most Anticipated Books of 2024
“Tightly structured, with elements of noir.”
—The Los Angeles Times
“A suspenseful and beautiful work by a writer who hates where he believes the world is headed and is attuned to the simple joys we are in danger of losing.”
—The Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Terror, crime and sinister phone-calls — a magnificent Irish novel. For the most part, it reads like a thriller, shot through with a pervading atmosphere of precarity and uncertainty . . . a beautifully written collision of mystery and metaphysics.”
“McCormack’s prose is quite simply the best around, his sentences a joy, clear and precise, as uncluttered as the west of Ireland landscape they describe.”
“McCormack is a singular talent, lucid sentences locking into an eerie and unforgettable edifice. It has brutal physicality and arch metaphysics.”
“Drawing these threads of heartbreak, surreal menace and the possible imminent collapse of the world together, McCormack weaves a web that holds the reader in suspense to the end—and beyond.”
“McCormack’s language is evocative, perfectly suited to the noirish atmosphere he builds throughout the book . . . As in Solar Bones, McCormack displays his gift for describing landscapes and situations that might seem unlovely, but for the fact that they are loved by the author’s observing eye . . . This is a strange novel, sinister yet hopeful, a descent into darkness that somehow manages to rise into a ringing light.”
“When someone tells Nealon a summary of his life he is astonished that suddenly the messy existence he has led sounds as though it makes sense. This Plague of Souls reminds us that fiction can do that, make sense of the jumble of our lives, even if it doesn’t provide all the answers. Not everyone will love this book and its mysteries — the way it acknowledges but estranges the reader — but those who do will not forget it. Imagine if all writers took this much trouble.”
—John Self, The Times (UK)
“Suffused in a sense of indeterminate dread, yet richly committed to the tangible realities of its setting . . . [This Plague of Souls] is an enigmatic, unsettling, Pinteresque masterpiece of withheld information.”
—Nat Segnit, The Times Literary Supplement
“A world of chaos and instability, with a troubled multi-dimensional character at its centre and an exquisitely rendered rural Ireland of beauty and darkness as the backdrop. McCormack is a cryptic, elliptical writer, forensic in his plotting and canny at teasing his readers.”
“Operating in a minor key, nudging us coyly towards an eerily personal apocalypse, the new book creates an utterly distinctive, utterly contemporary mood.”
—The Irish Times
“McCormack's previous novel, Solar Bones, was robbed when it only made the longlist for the Booker Prize in 2017. Centred on the everyman psyche of an Irish engineer, it had a poignant twist I'm not about to spoil here - but if you've read it, let me say now that the trick he pulled in that book has nothing on the high-jinks afoot here . . . It's all very slippery and endlessly suggestive, as the circular wandering gives way to dystopian horror and a parable of complicity and guilt on an interconnected planet.”
“Ultimately, this is a mood piece with a creeping, mesmeric tone of its own . . . Seek out this unique proposition by this inimitable writer.”
—The Irish Independent
“In a further step to cement his place at the top table of contemporary Irish novelists, McCormack has crafted another perfectly plotted opus . . . Perfect reading for cold autumn nights.”
—Buzz Magazine (UK)
“[Mike McCormack] has an uncanny gift for presenting a vivid realist depiction of the contemporary west of Ireland but layering it through with unexpected genre notes – there are elements of noir, dystopia, existential mystery. Built on lines of perfectly cadenced dialogue, [This Plague of Souls] is easily on a par with its feted predecessor, Solar Bones.”
—Kevin Barry, The New Statesman
“In This Plague of Souls, a whip-tight narrative often spills into poetry without ever losing its emotional heft . . . There are echoes of Seamus Heaney in McCormack’s pinpoint depictions of rural life.”
“This is the reason Mike McCormack is one of Ireland’s best-loved novelists; he is the most modestly brilliant writer we have. His delicate abstractions are woven from the ordinary and domestic—both metaphysical and moving, McCormack’s work asks the big questions about our small lives.”
—Anne Enright, Booker-winning author of The Gathering
“This Plague of Souls is written in perfectly-pitched cadences. It captures with exquisite care of a man ambushed by loss and fear, by hovering forces that are mysterious and otherworldly and beyond his control. It further establishes Mike McCormack as one of the best novelists writing now.”
—Colm Tóibín, author of The Master
“A small novel crammed with big ideas, This Plague of Souls is at once though-provoking and deeply satisfying.”
—Mick Herron, author of Slow Horses
“A sombre tale shot through with glints of dark humour, in which the sins of the past at once haunt and illuminate the present. A compelling read, with a thrillingly undecided ending.”
—John Banville, Booker-winning author of The Sea
“This is a darkly marvelous novel: at once intimate, domestic, and poignant, then speculative and hard-boiled and wild. That Mike can be so convincing, so skilled in both registers is remarkable. That he can do it concurrently is genius.”
—Lisa McInerney, author of The Glorious Heresies
“Mike McCormack’s fiction has always had a philosophical bent, and none more so than in This Plague of Souls. In Nealon, we’re given access to the mind of a man minutely attuned to every movement and vibration of his own consciousness, a man who is psychologically astute but receptive, too, to the hidden rhythms and frequencies of reality. There is a beautiful surreal feel to this novel, with its limbo landscape and night-time drives, but it is Nealon’s meditation on family and fatherhood—and what the loss of those might mean—that will linger long in the reader afterwards.”
—Mary Costello, author of Academy Street
“It was deliciously sinister, and reminded me that nobody captures the cold beauty and cruelty of the world like Mike; I just know I'm going to be chewing it over in my mind for weeks.”
—Sara Baume, author of A Line Made by Walking
“Evocative prose conjures vivid images of the brooding Irish countryside and Nealon’s bleak existence.”
About the Author
Mike McCormack is an award-winning novelist and short story writer from the West of Ireland. His work includes Getting it in the Head (1995), a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Notes from a Coma (2005), shortlisted for the Irish Book of the Year Award and Forensic Songs (2012). He was awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature (1996) and a Civitella Ranieri Fellowship (2007)
Solar Bones, his current novel, won the Goldsmiths Prize 2016, the BGE Irish Novel of the Year Award 2016, BGE Irish Book of the Year Award 2016 and nominated for the Man Booker Prize 2017.