I read Dermot Healy’s novel A Goat’s Song more than ten years ago, but it still stays with me. The relationship between Jack Ferris, a Catholic playwright, Catherine Adams, a Presbyterian actress, and her father, an austere RUC man, lies at the heart of a panoramic, multivalent portrait of Ireland. Urban and pastoral, modern and mythic, North and South, love and war — it’s all in there. As the title would suggest (a ‘goat’s song’ being Greek for ‘tragedy’) it’s often heartbreaking, both in its depiction of one of the harshest periods of Irish history and of an alcoholic romance spiralling downwards. It’s also warm, compendious and beautifully written, with a breadth of vision and an eye for character any of the Russians would be proud of. People don’t really talk about the Great Irish Novel: if they did, this would surely be near the top of the list.
Paul Murray is the author of Skippy Dies, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2010.