Harrison’s deeply disturbing, morally challenging first novel opens as Samuel Orr, a married Belfast preacher, falls headlong into a love affair with Anna, a young poet and student of Samuel Beckett. Orr is a man of profound faith and Anna is a thoughtful scholar. Each makes a worthy partner for the other, and together they contemplate the absurd, mysterious world around them. The first pages track the beginning of their affair and are an elegiac tribute to love, to “that brief moment of continuity between two lovers.” But their transgressive love has tragic consequences. After Anna becomes pregnant, and Orr confesses to his wife and later to his congregation, knowledge of the affair will irrevocably change everyone involved. The book concentrates in particular on the suffering of Orr’s oldest son, Philip, and of his half-brother, Samuel, the love child, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children.” A calculated and violent vengeance is meted out by Philip in the first half of the book, and terrifying, creepy aftershocks continue to reverberate in the lives of the grown-up Samuel and his enfeebled father, living together in New York City decades later. Harrison’s remarkable writing elevates a story that is all the more powerful for its eschewing of easy answers and resolution. (Oct.)
"Filmic in its scope and intensity , spanning 30 years and two continents, The First Day explores the intersection of faith and sexuality, and casts its Christian characters as intelligent and compelling, not caricatures. I hope we’re in for more from this striking new voice in fiction.' —Jamie Quatro, for The Guardian "Harrison’s debut is a fully engaging, well-written, very imaginative novel...The early part of the novel is written in powerful poetic prose , and with the detailed analysis of emotion, the understanding of how body and mind interact, strongly reminiscent of DH Lawrence ...A wonderful debut." —Irish Times "Brilliantly written throughout...A truly excellent novel, on all counts...With tight, dispassionate, superbly controlled prose, Harrison channels the spirit of Don DeLillo or Camus ...in an unflinching yet compassionate investigation of matters of the human heart and—[like] Graham Greene —the heart of the matter." —Irish Independent "Written with burning intensity , this is a powerful novel about marriage, passion, anger, and guilt." —Daily Mail (UK) "Hugely impressive. A finely written tale which is original, compulsive, and at times chilling ." —Irish Examiner "Screenwriter Harrison's absorbing debut will surprise readers with its ingenious plot twists and nuanced characters. Though compared with the work of Albert Camus and D.H. Lawrence, Harrison's cinematic first novel stands on its own ." —Library Journal "Harrison's elegant prose and deeply felt characters create a novel with a fiercely beating heart ."—Kirkus "Harrison’s deeply disturbing, morally challenging first novel opens as Samuel Orr, a married Belfast preacher, falls headlong into a love affair with Anna, a young poet and student of Samuel Beckett...The first pages track the beginning of their affair and are an elegiac tribute to love...Harrison’s remarkable writing elevates a story that is all the more powerful for its eschewing of easy answers and resolution ." —Publishers Weekly "Harrison’s first novel is a quiet yet suspenseful look at the lasting repercussions of traumatic events...[His] writing is lyrical and engaging throughout, and he does an excellent job of building tension...The First Day is an impressive debut ."—Booklist "After years in the wilderness, the past decade has seen a massive upswell of literary talent emerging from Northern Ireland...Harrison writes well and brings Belfast and the sectarian conflict vividly to life ." —Catholic Herald “When you read a novel cover to cover in one day, you know it's something exceptional .” —John Boyne, author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas “Terrific . The First Day is expanding and expanding all the time, like its own model universe…Marvelous .” —Sebastian Barry, author of Days Without End, winner of the 2016 Costa Book of the Year “Crisp, spare, lean and compelling . An auspicious debut.” —Patrick McCabe, author of Booker shortlisted The Butcher Boy
Belfast preacher Samuel Orr seems to embody the Gospels, with his honesty about his own failings and struggles with faith. But he shatters his family and upends his community when he has an affair and then a child with teacher Anna Stuart. The unexpected death of Samuel's wife devastates Philip, his eldest son, whose despair feeds into resentment toward his father. Affection for his half-brother Sam and a fragile friendship with Anna seem to afford Philip solace, but when he deliberately disfigures Sam, he slashes the veneer of equilibrium achieved between Anna and his family. Though Philip disappears, his crime defines Sam's life. Thirty-five years after the incident, Sam lives in New York and runs into Philip. Their encounter sets in motion a suspenseful and ultimately violent series of events that change both men and their father forever. VERDICT Screenwriter Harrison's absorbing debut will surprise readers with its ingenious plot twists and nuanced characters. Though compared with the work of Albert Camus and D.H. Lawrence, Harrison's cinematic first novel stands on its own.—John G. Matthews, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman
Irish filmmaker Harrison's cerebral yet emotional first novel shows how a "brief moment of continuity between two lovers" can have stark and long-lasting consequences.In 2012 Belfast, deeply religious 38-year-old car mechanic-turned-preacher Samuel Orr, a happily married father of three young sons, falls into a passionate if unlikely affair with 26-year-old Anna Stuart, a Beckett scholar at Queen's University. Their sexual attraction burns with fervor, but Harrison also wants his readers to view the affair in philosophical terms with his references to Beckett and transgressive literary philosopher Georges Bataille. An academic intellectual with poetic leanings, Anna is drawn to the way Orr sees "no line between the sacred and the profane." When she becomes pregnant, Orr tells his wife straightforwardly about the affair while acknowledging that he doesn't know what he plans to do. He continues to see Anna yet remains stalwart in his faith in God and himself. Then Orr's wife dies—whether accidentally or on purpose is left unclear—when struck by a train. Orr's oldest son, 12-year-old Philip, begins to demonstrate a quiet fury against his father; Anna senses the boy embodies his father's sense of guilt. When Anna's baby, named Samuel after both Beckett and Orr, is almost a year old, Orr breaks off their relationship. Philip's rage against his father becomes psychological warfare that culminates in violence. Cut ahead 35 years to a near, non-science-fiction future. Philip has disappeared. Anna has become an accomplished poet and married an artist. Sam Orr works at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and has brought his father, Samuel, now a blind old man, from Ireland to live with him. One day Philip shows up at the museum, and the careful world Sam, a repressed gay man, has erected shatters. The three Orrs must face their capacity for faith, vengeance, and forgiveness as well as their bonds of family love. Despite the borderline pretentious discussions of philosophy and theology, Harrison's elegant prose and deeply felt characters create a novel with a fiercely beating heart.