John the Revelatorby Peter Murphy
Already fast becoming a classic among coming-of-age tales, John the Revelator has garnered praise from Nick Laird, Colm Tóibín, Roddy Doyle, and John Boyne, and is a critical darling in the U.K.
This is the story of John Devine—stuck in a small town in the otherworldly landscape of southeastern Ireland, worried over by his single, chain
Already fast becoming a classic among coming-of-age tales, John the Revelator has garnered praise from Nick Laird, Colm Tóibín, Roddy Doyle, and John Boyne, and is a critical darling in the U.K.
This is the story of John Devine—stuck in a small town in the otherworldly landscape of southeastern Ireland, worried over by his single, chain-smoking, Bible-quoting mother, Lily, and spied on by the “neighborly” Mrs. Nagle. When Jamey Corboy, a self-styled Rimbaudian boy wonder, arrives in town, John’s life suddenly seems full of possibility. His loneliness dissipates. He is taken up by mischief and discovery, hiding in the world beyond as Lily’s mysterious illness worsens. But Jamey and John’s nose for trouble may be their undoing, and soon John will be faced with a terrible moral dilemma.
Joining the ranks of the great novels of friendship and betrayal—A Separate Peace, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha—John the Revelator grapples with the pull of the world and the hold of those we love.
The only son of a single mother, John Devine grows up in poverty in southern Ireland, a region steeped in ancient myth and devout Catholicism. John's mother cleans houses for a living, and at night she sits by the fire, recounting tales of John's birth and the magical effect of her singing on his colicky infancy. At school, John learns that bad girls and boys go to Hell, where the devil roasts and eats them.
When John is ten, his mother leaves for the hospital and Mrs. Nagle, a creepy neighbor, moves in to take care of him. His mother returns, but John experiences his first intimations of her mortality as he witnesses her weakened condition and her surgical scar. At 15, much to the chagrin of his mother and Mrs. Nagle, John makes a friend. Jamey is the charismatic son of a posh family, a boy who gets away with everything. He steals liquor from bars, charms adults, and somehow pulls off good grades. Most amazing is that Jamey is a burgeoning writer and an avid fan of Rimbaud. But in a climactic scene, the two boys commit an unforgivable deed, resulting in betrayal and Jamey's exile.
In this luminously written tale of a young boy's hardscrabble coming-of-age, Murphy reveals, with preternatural clarity, universal truths about friendship, love, and loss. (Fall 2009 Selection)
In the hallowed pantheon of Irish coming-of-age novels, Murphy's strongly written debut splits the difference between the sensitivity of Portrait of an Artist and the freakishness of Butcher Boy. John Devine lives a marginal life with his single mother in the small Irish town of Kilcody. He has a love for the lore of creepy-crawly things (thanks to his favorite book, Harper's Compendium of Bizarre Nature Facts). His mother, a maid for the rich folks in the area, is versed in Irish myth, which gives him an enchanted, slightly sinister sense of the world. As a teenager, John befriends the posh James Corboy, who fancies himself quite the young Rimbaud. Two events define John's coming into manhood: one involves James, a video camera and a drunken rampage; the other, John's mother, who is dying and whose weakness necessitates the frequent assistance of nosy neighbor Mrs. Nagle. Murphy understands the gracelessness of teenage boys and that peculiar delinquent wisdom shared by all the great coming-of-age novelists. With this novel, he doesn't have to bow to any of them. (Aug.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Beautifully humane and sometimes nightmarish, this incredible debut novel by a noted music and culture editor, journalist, and critic recounts the life and times of John Devine, a 15-year-old boy who lives in Kilcody, a village in southeastern Ireland, with his Bible-quoting, nicotine-addicted mother. He whiles away his days obsessing about worms, crows, and sin until he meets Jamey Corboy, a "posh boy" who reads the French decadents, swills booze, and indulges in petty graft with local thugs. After a heinous bender during which the boys vandalize a church, John sells out Jamey to save his own skin, only to struggle with the guilt borne of his betrayal even as he tends to his terminally ill mother. Repeated run-ins with an insidious neighbor, Mrs. Nagle, and the vicious pub-rat Gunter Prunty complicate John's caretaking. VERDICT This work establishes Murphy as an author of tremendous imaginative and linguistic power who has mastered Flann O'Brien's supernatural whimsy, Beckett's grim irony, and McCabe's unsparing brutality. Essential reading.J. Greg Matthews, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman
J. Greg Matthews
A Barnes & Noble "Discover Great New Writers" selection for Fall 2009
Advance Praise for John the Revelator
"Full of things I can remember but can't imagine, a stunning debut novel."
–James Dean Bradfield, lead singer of the Manic Street Preachers
"The prose is a bag of fireworks, crackling with idiom and humour. Domestic, mythic, creepy, funny. Brilliant."
--Nick Laird, author of Utterly Monkey
"There's a novel which there's a lot of excitement about by Peter Murphy called John the Revelator. I've read it and it's an absolutely wonderful book, I mean it's a really wonderful book. And people say 'oh, you know, Irish fiction is stale,' well things can change overnight, and books like Peter Murphy's can change things and be so fresh and so contemporary, so original and so disturbing and brave. I don't know what else is coming out of the blue like that, and that's the way it goes."
—Colm Toibin, The International Herald Tribune
"Everything about John the Revelator excited me—I couldn't wait to turn the page and keep on going. It was like reading for the first time, almost as if I'd never read a novel before."
—Roddy Doyle, author of Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
"Peter Murphy gives a great read, both wild and grounded. John the Revelator is the bastard of son of J.D. Salinger and Ted Hughes—ballsy, humorous, and brutally honest."
—Sabina Murray, author of The Caprices
"I also read a debut novel by an Irish writer, Peter Murphy, John the Revelator. An atmospheric tale of a young boy growing up in a small village whose life is altered by his friendship with a very free-spirited boy who he meets. It’s an interesting debut, filled with humour and energy, and a certain sense of mystery. Best of all is the old crone, Mrs Nagle, who takes up residence in John’s house whenever she sees an opportunity. Their face-offs are very funny and original."
—John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Mutiny on the Bounty
Praise from the UK
Murphy's impressive debut novel traces the childhood and young adolescence of John Devine. It is impressionistic rather than narrative-driven. It is part a traditional rite of passage novel and part hallucinogenic graphic nightmare horror. John the Revelator is the shout and answer refrain of the traditional blues song. . .It is also subtly comic. . .the author is to be admired for taking a well-used theme and giving it a great new twist . . . yet underneath the gothic, there is a gentle, tender novel. Peter Murphy's prose is extraordinarily good and each page is sheer pleasure to read."
—Neil Donnely, Irish Independent News
"John The Revelator is as assured a debut as I've read in years, and Murphy has created a cast of characters that will live long in the memory . . . This is a startling first novel, a remarkable statement of intent."
—John Meagher, the Irish Independent
"There is little to find fault with in this remarkably assured first attempt. Murphy, a music journalist from Wexford, has tapped something special with this insight into teenage psyche in a pocket of rural Ireland . . . This is a strikingly beautiful portrayal of mother and son . . . From the outset, Murphy shows a natural flair for narrative . . . Despite such confidetnly written prose, there is no evidence of arrogance . . . The style and attention to detail tally so well that it's easy to consume John the Revelator in one sitting . . . it is a hugely enjoyable work of fiction that announces Murphy as an Irish writer of substance."
—-Sunday Times Ireland
"Directly from the opening paragraph, Peter Murphy’s exuberantly candid first novel draws the reader. . .Murphy succeeds in making his lively, evocative story that bit different, thanks to an assured narrative voice and an ability to detect the bizarre ever lurking within the commonplace. . .Murphy convincingly evokes a child’s response to life. . .This novel continually surprises as Murphy never becomes too clever. . .This may be a story of relatively recent contemporary Irish life, but Murphy also conveys a sense of the Ireland that went into making John’s world, a place in which the Bible and folklore walked hand in hand."
—The Irish Times
"An Irish music writer, Peter Murphy casts his debut novel like a blues noir, steeped in the music that has clearly inspired him. From the title, Blind Willie Johnson's 1930 gospel call and response, he follows the path of Nick Cave's 1985 Delta descent The Firstborn is Dead, with its shades of William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor and Harry Crews. But this spook-filled Irish landscape, rendered with gouts of blood-red humour, is entirely his own."
—Cathi Unsworth, The Guardian
"Murphy's writing is resolutely unsentimental, but so moving and powerful that the end had me weeping buckets."
—Kate Saunders, The Times (London)
"Beautifully written, darkly humorous and totally engrossing. An exciting and impressive new talent."
—Anne Sexton, Hot Press
"Murphy has a very obvious affection for language, and for the crackle, spark and music of words. Even when describing decay and sourness, he manages to imbue things with an arresting beauty. He leads the reader down some atmospheric and moody byways, and avoids the dramatically obvious in favour of a gentle unravelling of John's friendship with Jamey, and John's attempts to deal with his mother's illness. The book moves with the organic grace of a coming-of-age movie, where everything of importance happens beneath the surface . . . Murphy is particularly good at describing the feverish angst of adolescence, the sweaty crawling-under-your-skin feeling of not knowing where you're going, and in John Devine he avoids the obvious and trite and creates an obliquely fascinating character."
—Padraig Kenny, Sunday Tribune
"Murphy writes spare arresting prose with the brio of Ireland's current literary star Anne Enright and he has the ear for dialogue of Roddy Doyle."
"Murphy's eerily atmospheric debut . . . with its dark humour and hypnotic prose, brilliantly captures the uncertainties of growing up."
"A moving and affecting first novel."
"[A] jaw-dropping debut...Murphy works literary alchemy on every page, filtering the daily tedium of small-town life through John’s bizarre worldview and enriching the story with a caustic humor that still leaves room for genuine moments of friendship and familial tenderness...A terrific, disquieting addition to the long tradition of Irish storytelling."
— Kirkus Review
"In the hallowed pantheon of Irish coming-of-age novels, Murphy's strongly written debut splits the difference between the sensitivity of Portrait of an Artist and the freakishness of Butcher Boy...Murphy understands the gracelessness of teenage boys and that peculiar delinquent wisdom shared by all the great coming-of-age novelists. With this novel, he doesn't have to bow to any of them.
— Publishers Weekly
"Beautifully humane and sometimes nightmarish, this incredible debut novel...establishes Murphy as an author of tremendous imaginative and linguistic power who has mastered Flann O'Brien's supernatural whimsy, Beckett's grim irony, and McCabe's unsparing brutality. Essential reading."
— Library Journal
"...this is a noteworthy debut from a writer who sticks with his stormy vision of the world."
— Dallas Morning News
"[A] soul-stirring debut novel...Murphy sets linguistic traps to capture the reader's attention in line after line of inspired and, yes, revelatory prose."
— Seattle Times
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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- 5.70(w) x 8.56(h) x 0.94(d)
Read an Excerpt
I was born in a storm. My mother said the thunder was so loud she flinched when it struck, strobes of lightning and slam-dancing winds and volleys of rain for hours until it blew itself out and sloped off like a spent beast.'I knew you were a boy,' she said. 'Heartburn. Sure sign of a man in your life.' My name is John Devine. I was christened after the beloved disciple, the brother of James the Great. Our Lord called them the sons of thunder. 'John was Jesus' favourite,' my mother told me. 'The patron saint of printers and tanners and typesetters.' When she got started on this, it could go on for hours. We were out walking the fields at the back of our house. I was still in short trousers. My mother strode ahead, hell bent on where she was going, and I had to trot to keep up. 'He was the only one to stay awake in the garden while Our Lord sweated blood,' she said. 'After the crucifixion, the emperor brought him to Rome to be flogged and beaten and thrown in a cauldron of boiling oil. They tried to poison him with wine, but the poison rose to the surface in the shape of a snake. In the end they banished him to Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation.' She took out her handkerchief and dribbled on it. 'The only apostle to escape martyrdom.' And she wiped my face. The smell was like when you lick yourself, a compound of saliva and tissue and skin. I tried to pull away, but she wouldn't let go until she was satisfied I was clean. 'He died in the year a hundred and one. People believed that once a year his grave gave off a smell that could heal the sick. Just before John passed away, his followers carried him into the assembly at the church of Ephesus and asked him how to live. You know what he said?' She stuffed the tissue up her sleeve. 'Little children, love one another.' 'That's all?' 'It's enough to be going on with.'
Said my mother, I was still an infant when we moved from the caravan near Ballo strand to a house a couple of miles outside Kilcody. Her mother and father willed it to her when they died. It was always so cold there you could see your breath hang in the air. Vines of ivy crawled across the pebble-dashed walls; weeds strangled the few sticks of rhubarb. There was a sandpit out the back, broken toys and mustard minarets of turd, an orange clothesline dripping laundry. Every day after school I dragged my schoolbag home like it was a younger brother, let myself into the house and snapped on all the downstairs lights. There was a cactus on our kitchen windowsill, swollen green fingers and prickly white spines. Beside that was Haircut Charlie, the clown's head for planting seeds in, grass growing out of the tiny holes in his skull. A sacred-heart lamp glowed atop the mantelpiece. The floor was new blue linoleum with black patterns. One time a pipe under the sink leaked and we had to tear up the old stuff and underneath was crawling with bulbous pea-green slugs and brown fungus, like deformed bonsai trees. My mother was still at work when I got home. She cleaned people's houses, and sometimes she took in clothes to be washed or mended. She said you could tell a lot about a person from their dirty laundry. I'd sit over my homework at the kitchen table, anticipating the squeak of the gate, the parched bark of her cough. If she were late I'd start to worry that she'd been taken, and I'd be sent to an orphanage or made to live with her friend Mrs Nagle or someone else old. But she always came home, shrugging out of her coat and saying she was choking for a cup of tea and a fag. After the kettle went on she set the fire, placing bits of Zip under the briquettes, blue and orange flames licking at her fingers. Then she hefted the big pot onto the cooker. 'What's for dinner?' 'Pig's feet and hairy buttermilk.' She spread the tablecloth and set the Delph. There were Polish cartoons on television, followed by the Angelus' boring bongs. My mother looked out the window and smoked while I ate. Her green eyes went grey whenever it rained and her hair was braided halfway down her back. After the washing up, she sat by the fire and read her Westerns. Gusts sobbed in the chimney and the fire spat and crackled. 'Book any good?' 'Ah -' She slapped it shut, shook a Major's from the box and broke the filter off. 'Too many descriptions. I know what a tree looks like.' The long nights were hard going. There was nothing to do but stare at the fire or listen to the wind howl around the eaves. The sound reminded my mother of the night I was born. 'You were a typical boy,' she muttered under her breath. 'You came early.' She screwed the truncated cigarette into a holder, lit it, took a deep breath and hawed a coil of smoke rings. 'It was about the thirty-fourth week.' Then she leaned down and cranked the bellows, sending firefly flurries up the chimney. The fire blazed and crackled. She let me climb onto her lap, and her long fingers latticed across my stomach. 'There was a storm waiting to happen. The air was full of it.' Her voice was deep and hypnotic, her breath warm against my crown. I closed my eyes and could almost smell the bonfire smoke drift through the halting site, could see children running around with no trousers on, dogs tearing plastic bags of rubbish asunder. Air pressure like a migraine, pitchfork lightning and growls of thunder. My mother described how when the storm struck she covered all the mirrors and crawled under her quilt and spread her hands over the swell of her belly, as though to protect me from the flashes of light and the noise. Fear churned her insides, travelled downward and became a clenching of pelvic muscles. She prayed it was a false alarm, tried to will the pangs away, but they intensified. Her waters broke, soaking her leggings. She grabbed the bag she'd packed and out she went into the furious night and knocked on caravan windows. Nobody answered. Fear came upon her in great black waves. Panic welled up in her chest. But just as she despaired of finding help, a man appeared, unsteady and reeking of stout and sweat, but a man all the same, and he said he'd oblige her with a lift. He was so jarred it took his Fiat three goes to exit the roundabout. Raindrops burst like pods against the windshield and water coated the road in a gleaming slick. My mother screwed her eyes shut and tried not to vomit or pass out as the waves of pain broke inside her lower parts. They barely made it. A nurse helped my mother onto a trolley and wheeled her into the elevator cage and up to the delivery ward, no time for an epidural or any of that, just gas and air, my mother gumming on the apparatus like a suckling calf, hair plastered across her forehead, grinning at the midwife. 'You wouldn't happen to have a Baby Power's in your bag of tricks there,' she slurred. 'Be quiet and keep pushing,' said the midwife. Breathing and pushing and moaning, gas and air and more breathing and pushing and moaning, and then I slithered out. The midwife scooped me up and the obstetrician cut the cord. 'A boy?' my mother asked, lifting her sweaty head. 'Aye,' said the midwife, as she wrapped me in a terrytowel. 'Any extras? Harelip? Flippers?' 'Whisht,' said the midwife. The obstetrician looked me over, pronounced me hardy as a foal. 'He used to kick like one,' said my mother, and sank back into the pillows. The recovery ward was full of nightgowned, slippered women, their faces flushed with fatigue. The rooms were warm and stuffy and my mother couldn't sleep. Soon as she could walk she called a taxi and took us home to the caravan. She padded the top drawer of an old teak dresser with blankets for a bassinet and placed me in it. Then the trouble started. 'You were a holy terror,' she said, mashing her fag into the seashell at her feet. 'When I put you on the tit, I bled. Then you got in a knot with the colic and wouldn't let me sleep a wink. No sooner fed than you had to be winded. Then you'd poss up, and you'd be hungry again, so I'd feed you a second time, and as soon as I'd put you down to sleep you'd dirty your nappy, so I'd have to take you back up, and you'd be wide awake and hungry all over again. You had me vexed, son.' For weeks she didn't get to finish a cup of tea or sit down to a proper meal. She barely spoke, and when she did it was through a veil of exhaustion, with a two-second satellite delay. Bad thoughts came. Fear for this tiny thing in her care, all kinds of wicked shadows snarling and pawing at the door. Some nights her moods got so moribund she harboured thoughts of putting a pillow over my head so as to get it over with quick. 'What stopped you?' 'You weren't baptised yet.' Night after night I wailed my beetroot head off, and my mother walked the floor and patted my back in time with the songs playing on the local radio station, her walking, me bawling. One night, maybe three or four in the morning, the news came on. The man reading the headlines said the Met Office had issued a storm warning: gale-force winds, possible flooding. People were advised to stop home except for emergencies. I went on caterwauling, and my mother rocked me in the crook of her shoulder, breathing my newborn smell. She held me to her breast and murmured into my pink cockleshell ear, 'It's an ill wind, son.' And for no other reason than to drown out my squalling, she began to sing, the first thing that came into her head. As soon as I heard that sound, I fell silent. The song died in her mouth and she stared, stunned, as my eyelids came down and my body went limp. She laid me in my crib, checked my breath with her compact. 'At last,' she sighed, and crawled into bed. It was the queerest thing, said my mother, but ever after that, I slept peacefully, ten hours a night. Provided she sang. And I believed her, because a mother's word is gospel to her son.
Meet the Author
He lives in the southeast of Ireland, in County Wexford, where he grew up. This is his first novel.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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An OK story, but given the title and the author, I thought this book might be of particuar interest to blues enthusiasts. It wasn't. It's not a bad read, but the occasional allusions to traditional music of any sort are sporadic and trivial, of no depth, interest, or *ahem* resonance. I guess my expectations aren't the book's problem, but still I felt a bit let down.
I really enjoyed this book. Peter Murphy has a wonderful way of describing things that made me feel like I had been there. This book took me to a place where I became a pubescent boy growing up with a single mother in a tiny Catholic village in modern Ireland. Great Read.
A sort of coming of age for a young boy in Ireland, Peter Murphy does a fantastic job of creating a loveable character. The reader forms a close bond to the young boy who gets thrown into all sorts of unusual situations. It's an easy and enjoyable read. The plot itself isn't all that intricate but it is a perfect read for a rainy day or when you are simply looking for a feel good book.
John The Revelator by Peter Murphy (Book Review) John The Revelator is a great debut novel by Peter Murphy. It is published by Faber and Faber and its ISBN is 0571240208. This is a quirky coming of age tale. It is well written in evocative and beautiful prose. The story is not original but it is an interesting account of the pain and agony of being an illegitimate child in old rural Ireland and the boy's desire to escape. It touches other subjects like the power struggle between mother and son, religion and friendship. The narrator is John Devine who is a loner until at 16 he meets Jamie who introduces John to pubs and criminals. Lily his mother quotes the bible alot and tries to keep him on the straight and narrow. This is magnificently written, its language is poetic in parts and is a pleasure to read. I highly recommend this novel. Reviewed by Annette Dunlea author of The Honey Trap and Always and Forever.