Kilbrack

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The original 1990 edition ...
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A review of the original 1990 edition, from the Literary Review UK

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The original 1990 edition

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1990
ISBN 0 297 84012 6

O’Leary Montagu – tall, dark and normal, as Mary once described him – was born at the age of twenty-five, a 1990 Cover difficult age, as he himself admits. He woke up in a hospital bed, scarred, amnesiac, and in love on his first morning with a young nurse, fresh from Ireland, Mary.

O’Leary Montagu? he asked. Is that my name? Mary blushed. No, she replied. O’Leary was the ward sister, Montagu the consultant in charge of his case. They had to call him something. It was only human to have a name.

Eleven years later and Mary, an alcoholic now and traumatized herself by O’Leary’s neuroses, flees to her parents in Ireland. “But so typical of Mary, she couldn’t just say goodbye, but must feign her own funeral.” He finds himself homeless, impecunious and under an ill-starred fate. But at least he has the memoirs of his beloved Nancy Valentine to guide him. He embarks on his life-long ambition: to visit Kilbrack, her idyllic childhood home, and write her biography.

The arrival of this stranger in the dilapidated village proves an unsettling affair, not least for the local Author ex back jacket pharmacist, J. D. Downey, ‘dispenser of drugs and advice’, and for Nellie Maguire, erratic spinster of the pub. The frenzied Mrs Cuthbert makes plans for O’Leary to marry her daughter, Livia, and restore the family fortune. But Livia, to spite her mother, vows to become a nun. The parish priest is busy cornering the Irish ham market; while from the big house comes a thin sardonic laughter as Valentine Brack composes his endless histories.

What has happened to Kilbrack? As Nancy Valentine says in her memoirs, “Love that dared to speak her name was forced to quit her home.” O’Leary’s coming will change all that, but in a manner no one – in his right mind – could foretell.

With its cast of rampant miscreants, deliciously witty dialogue, and with touches of melancholy and alarming hints at some darker obsessions, Kilbrack makes compulsive comic reading.