Book Review - Though the Bodies Fall

Noel O’Regan, born in Tralee, County Kerry, is a notable addition to the wave of literary talent coming out of Ireland. In his debut novel, he writes about difficult subjects such as depression, trauma and absence with a quiet eloquence.

Micheál lives in his family’s bungalow at the end of Kerry Head: “like some tourist’s dream of a rural Irish cottage”. It’s a stunning landscape, but the cliffs exert a powerful pull on the bereft and Micheál’s home is the last port of call before the headland. His parents had felt it was their duty – spiritual and civic – to attempt to save the lost souls they referred to as “visitors”. When Micheál’s father dies, his mother places the burden on her young son’s shoulders – an experience from which he never fully recovers.

O’Regan’s focus is the inner turmoil of his troubled protagonist who frees others from their personal demons but is sinking under the weight of his own. Micheál escapes briefly to study in Limerick, finds love with budding rower Nadine, whom he marries, and embarks on a tentative teaching career. But the 2008 recession upends their plans. After his mother’s death, they move to the Kerry bungalow, ill-prepared for the emotional cost on their relationship.

Now in his early 40s, Micheál contemplates his past mistakes, avoiding thoughts of the future. His sisters are keen to sell the land, but he is loath to relinquish the place he feels tethered to, even if it offers him little comfort. He spends his time bird-watching and recording passing ships – the irony is that they move on, while he remains stuck. His only companion is his dog, Sammy.

Moving between two timelines, Though the Bodies Fall takes time to ignite, but O’Regan’s exploration of ordinary lives shattered by extraordinary circumstances, strained sibling relations and the vicissitudes of solitude is perceptive. In unfussy prose, O’Regan creates an evocative sense of place and depicts Micheál’s sense of duty, guilt and increasing self-neglect with unflinching honesty.

Originally published by The Observer