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Life Sentences Reviews

Life Sentences by Billy O'Callaghan

Life Sentences

Billy O'Callaghan

Score pending

2 reviews

Imprint: Jonathan Cape Ltd
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publication date: 14 Jan 2021
ISBN: 9781787332447
3 stars out of 5
Yvonne Nolan
21 Jan 2021

"Billy O’Callaghan’s bravura lyricism is marred by the novel’s lack of coherence"

Barring the many pages of bravura lyricism, O’Callaghan’s non-fiction novel is marred by its lack of coherence. Three lightly fictionalised narratives of family history do not a novel make; it is not enough to write them beautifully and set them side by side without any overarching narrative impetus or direction. O’Callaghan makes clear that to be impoverished, in poor health and without social power is a life sentence that cannot be dodged, and that only cross-generational effort can affect a slow-moving upward trajectory. To the reader this message hits home early. The problem is that the quiet movements of ordinary lives, devoid of the incident and detailed weave of well-crafted fiction, provide little reason to turn the page.


4 stars out of 5
16 Jan 2021

"It’s a thoughtful, slow-motion novel"

The strength of Life Sentences lies in its long range but intimate style. It’s a thoughtful, slow-motion novel, an antidote to the tics and quips of some millennial fiction. With no single plot culmination, the linked stories have a pleasant, rolling circularity: a reader could profitably finish the book and go straight back to its beginning, like Finnegans Wake, to revisit the family in a renewed and sharper — if not happier — light.