Reliable ingredients — love, bereavement, Paris in the rain — give an unforced gravity and lyricism to stories that range across an impossible relationship in Taiwan, an IRA man on a lethal mission, and a boy’s muted friendship with an isolated old woman. Best known for his short and melancholy novel My Coney Island Baby, O’Callaghan is a reliably consummate performer, and these stories focus on the glimmer of heart in the hardness of life, and on those “diamond moments plucked from an otherwise incessant drabness”.
While the writing is invariably delightful, the observations can sometimes feel out of step with our times. A blurb on the back of the book proclaims ‘For fans of John McGahern, Sebastian Barry, and Bernard MacLaverty.’ Two of those fine writers, at least, are old enough to be Billy O’Callaghan’s father, or grandfather even.
Sometimes you feel he has swallowed McGahern whole and turned into him.