Kilbrack

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O'Leary Montagu was born at age twenty-five -- a difficult age, as he himself admits. For the past eleven years, which is as far back as he can remember, O'Leary has been sustained by two people: his girlfriend, Mary, traumatized by O'Leary's neuroses, and Nancy Valentine, author of Ill Fares the Land. Her memoir of an idyllic childhood in Kilbrack ends as she returns to the village after inexplicable banishment and finds it abandoned.

Now Mary has left him, and O'Leary finds ...

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Overview

O'Leary Montagu was born at age twenty-five -- a difficult age, as he himself admits. For the past eleven years, which is as far back as he can remember, O'Leary has been sustained by two people: his girlfriend, Mary, traumatized by O'Leary's neuroses, and Nancy Valentine, author of Ill Fares the Land. Her memoir of an idyllic childhood in Kilbrack ends as she returns to the village after inexplicable banishment and finds it abandoned.

Now Mary has left him, and O'Leary finds himself homeless and laboring under an ill-starred fate. With his treasured copy of Ill Fares the Land, he arrives in the dilapidated village of Kilbrack and finds it hasn't been abandoned at all: thin old Downey, the pharmacist, is still dispensing medicines and advice; Nellie Maguire is still languishing in her pub; and stout Mrs. Cuthbert, still frenzied, arranges for O'Leary to marry her daughter, who has vowed to become a nun.

What has happened to Kilbrack? O'Leary's coming will change everything, but in a manner no one -- in his right mind -- could foretell.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Written a decade before Irish author O'Neill's breakthrough novel At Swim, Two Boys, this richly comic tale is at once a satire of Irish popular novels and exemplar of the genre. The book boasts a highly unusual hero, O'Leary Montagu, so named by the nurse who 11 years earlier found him, at age 25, facially scarred and wholly amnesiac after being struck by an automobile. Wracked by a host of strange compulsions, O'Leary is obsessed with an unpublished memoir he discovers, Ill Fares the Land by one Nancy Valentine, about her decaying hometown of Kilbrack and its endearingly odd inhabitants. After countless rereadings of the memoir (its title is rendered on O'Leary's copy as Ill Farts the Land, one of many such embarrassing "misprints"), O'Leary finally decides he must visit Kilbrack and the author to write her biography. What he discovers in the supposedly abandoned Kilbrack isn't at all what he expects. The outrageous cast, nearly all of whom seem to be characters in the memoir, are hilarious, and O'Leary himself is a memorable addition to the roll of heroes of Irish literature, with his endearing tics and habits. Constantly making brief mental "diary memos," he also clutches in his pocket his version of a security blanket (a mysterious "lemon jiffy") and waits five full minutes before entering a public toilet to be certain no one is inside. Only the crude homophobia of O'Leary's father jars in this idyll of satiric nostalgia. (Feb. 24) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this grand, outrageous, and heartwarming work, Irish novelist O'Neill forcefully blends farce and slapstick with existential and absurdist drama, exploring the tortured complexities of family dynamics, Irish character and history, and sexual orientation along the way. Protagonist O'Leary Montagu is a vulnerable, lovable, bumbling, neurotic Irishman who has struggled for 13 years to regain his memory after a near-fatal car accident. He has been sustained by a mysterious book titled Ill Fares the Land, an apparently self-published novel that depicts an idyllic childhood in the small town of Kilbrack. The novel so enthralls him-he has in fact read it 1,023 times-that he sets out for Kilbrack to meet the author. This action sets in motion a series of events that ultimately leads the long-suffering Montagu to recover his memory and his family. O'Neill's recent At Swim, Two Boys drew lavish praise (and comparisons to Joyce), and this earlier novel deserves similar accolades. Enthusiastically recommended for all libraries.-Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The pastoral image of rural Ireland is roasted over a slow fire in this inventive black comedy, a 1990 novel by the Irish author of the 2002 critical success At Swim, Two Boys. Protagonist O'Leary Montagu is a man who's forgotten himself, after being nearly killed by a hit-and-run driver and having in effect been "born at the age of twenty-five" or thereabouts. We meet O'Leary as he's traveling by train to the village of Kilbrack, memorialized in his favorite book, Ill Fares the Land, a memoir of its author Nancy Valentine's idyllic childhood there. The book's plaintive conclusion had led O'Leary to expect a ghost town; instead, he finds a reasonably bustling hamlet still occupied by Valentine's characters. Prominent among them are an intemperate pharmacist, a delusional spinster tavernkeeper, middle-aged unmarried male and female siblings, and widowed Charity Cuthbert, who hopes to prevent her beautiful, headstrong daughter Livia from becoming a nun by marrying the wicked girl off-even if it's to maimed, addlepated O'Leary. We sense that our hero's hopes to write Nancy Valentine's biography may go for naught with the introduction of Mrs. Cuthbert's distant cousin, elderly recluse Valentine Brack, who lives alone with his dog Nancy and compulsively scribbles tales of his disappointing life and times intended to prove his morose assertion that "History ends with me." O'Neill mixes these raffish elements expertly (throwing in for good measure a cupiditous Monsignor who's after Charity Cuthbert's property) in a roiling narrative that grows in depth and complexity even as its characters' antics maintain its comic momentum. And there are hints of the Joycean dimensions of O'Neill's later novelin the sure touch with which he makes the bewildered O'Leary a humble image of the wanderer reclaiming his history, the writer grappling with his material, and the son seeking his father. O'Neill again proves himself one of Ireland's finest writer. Agent: Giles Gordon/Curtis Brown, UK
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743255950
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 2/24/2004
  • Edition description: Reading Group Guide Inside
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.92 (h) x 0.68 (d)

Meet the Author

Jamie O'Neill
Jamie O'Neill
With his acclaimed breakout novel At Swim, Two Boys generating buzz and garnering him comparisons to James Joyce and Roddy Doyle, Dublin native Jamie O'Neill is poised to create a literary legacy all his own.

Good To Know

In our interview with O'Neill, he shared some great stories about his personal appearances and readings:

"I once walked out of a public reading. It was in Australia and I'd been invited to read from At Swim, Two Boys at some Irish club or other. The usual emigré business. I arrived, to be informed that the proprietors had decided my book was "not fit stuff to be read on the premises." Instead, the restaurant across the road had been reserved, they were all going to eat there, I was welcome to join them, and could read afterwards from my table. Well, I'd come all this way, so I trooped along. And I was looking at these faces, the flushed complexions and dwindled eyes as the bottles were lavishly attacked. These people weren't here for literature at all. They really thought they'd be titillated by hearing some dirty queer words read in an Irish accent. So halfway through, I've had enough of this. I rap on the table. Ladies and gentlemen,' says I. Clash of cutlery, confused silence. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, my book is about love and courage, and the search in young hearts for nobility and pride. There's none of that here -- so I'm leaving.' And out I walked.

Generally, though, readings are great fun. And they can be genuinely enlightening. I was reading in Toronto last year, in the big library there (I should say now that At Swim, Two Boys culminates in the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916). Well, there was a big crowd, appreciative audience, curious, listening. We had a great Q & A afterwards, with intelligent, searching questions. After an hour and a half of this, I began to think we had my book nicely wrapped up. Then, just at the end, this hesitant hand pokes up at the back. "I was just wondering," says its owner, ‘what is this Rising thing anyway?' And everyone turns and says, ‘Yeah, I was wondering about that too.' And you realize how small, how insignificant is your tiny country's big history.

The first reading I ever gave was the first I had ever attended (it had never occurred to me that people would go willingly to such things). It was in some small arts centre down in County Cork. I arrived hours early, nervously wanting to check out the place, the microphones, the lights. ‘You see,' I explained to the director, ‘this is the first time I've ever read to an audience.' I was expecting some calming words, a pat on the shoulder, a ‘you'll be fine.' Instead, the director, a returned Canadian, puts his hand to his mouth and bawls down the corridor: ‘Hey, we got ourselves a virgin!'

In Philadelphia, I don't know what it was, but the audience seemed to have mistook the Free Library for a church. I had never read to such a stony silence. ‘Look,' I said, after I'd finished a passage: ‘you could at least cough.'

But my most favoured memory is of a reading at Concordia University in Montreal. I stood on the podium and looked out on the faces. Generations of Irish faces, the high complexion of the men, that particular kink of the women's hair (those are some genes, I tell you). In the front row sat a priest, suited and collared. On his left, a lesbian couple. On his right, two gay men growing old together. Students, teachers; the university GLBT society. And I thought to myself, what a privilege to have brought such unlikely people together. What a very great privilege it is."

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    1. Hometown:
      Gortachalla in County Galway, Ireland
    1. Education:
      Presentation College, Glasthule, County Dublin; "and, of course, the city streets of London, the beaches of Greece."

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