Though the Bodies Fall by Noel O’Regan: Mother’s little helper

Cover image for Though the Bodies Fall by Noel O'HaganI’ve long had a penchant for Irish writing but either that’s becoming more pronounced or there are even more fine writers being published from that country. Whichever it is, that was what drew me to Noel O’Regan’s Though the Bodies Fall set on a stretch of Kerry headland which has been a suicide black spot for years.

Cycling across the square, he glances left at the long stretch of strand, stony near the dunes and sky-pooled towards the sea. Sandpipers skitter along the shoreline, something manic in their movements, rushing seaward in search of food, fleeing before the next wave arrives.

Micheál Burns has lived in the bungalow at the furthest end of Kerry Head since he was six years old. His grandparents had no idea of the headland’s reputation when they bought what became the family home in the early ‘70s. Micheál’s parents moved in when his grandmother could no longer look after herself, taking on the burden of saving potential suicides whenever they could. When his father dies, his mother enlists twelve-year-old Micheál’s help, a responsibility that will cost him dear. After he leaves for university, his elder sister Áine picks up the burden determined to spare Saoirse the youngest of the three. After four brief years away, Micheál returned to the headland with his wife. Now forty-two, he lives alone, constantly on alert for signs that a ‘visitor’ has arrived who needs talking down. It’s his mission to save them, but Áine is equally determined that it’s time to sell the bungalow.

No one is here, he tells himself; no one but the echoes of those who came before.

Micheál’s story unfolds in short episodic chapters, flashbacks alternating with the present, revealing a life which has been blighted by his driven mother‘s determination to save as many ‘visitors’ as she could. The effects on her family are profound: Micheál never escapes the burden placed upon him so young which is only increased when he realises the damage his departure did to his sisters, both furious with their mother, each dealing with that in their own way. It’s a challenging theme but, as is so often the case with Irish authors, it was the quality of O’Regan’s writing that struck me most. The sense of place is extraordinarily strong, anchored with vivid word pictures that summon up the bungalow’s bleakly beautiful surroundings and the many storms that batter them. An impressive, powerful debut. For readers whose heart, like mine, sinks when a dog appears on the page, I’m pleased to report the lovely Sammy survives the course.

Granta Books: London 9781783789481 272 pages Paperback (Read via NetGalley)

12 thoughts on “Though the Bodies Fall by Noel O’Regan: Mother’s little helper”

  1. It really does seem that Irish writers can do no wrong at the moment. This looks as if it’s a nicely constructed story, and if the writing’s fine too- well, best try to find and read it!

  2. The sense of place does appeal to me, as does the premise–however does one live with this burden (in his place, I wouldn’t be able to leave even if I wanted at some level to give it up). So glad the dog is fine.

  3. I have enjoyed a lot of Irish writing over the years, so this really appeals although it certainly sounds powerful. That sense of a terrible responsibility and the burden that comes with it are particularly interesting.

  4. This sounds really powerful. I’ve heard about places kind of like this where someone who lives nearby will work to prevent suicides. It’s always framed as a feel-good story without really thinking about the toll that would take on someone.

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