Le Fanu’s Angel had its genesis in a true story. An acquaintance of mine, call him Nigel, got drunk at a party, borrowed a friend’s car without permission, and crashed into another car, killing the young woman driver. At his trial, Nigel was represented by his father, a leading barrister, who got the case dismissed on a technicality. That night, Nigel awoke to see a woman in funereal garb at the foot of his bed pointing an accusing finger at him. It was, he told me, the first of many nightly visits by the silent apparition. Shortly after, when out driving, he glimpsed her in the back seat of his car and in shock, he drove into a wall. Other incidents followed. His nerves shattered, Nigel hanged himself.
His story became the basis of my novel. As I began outlining the structure, I realised that truth was not always as interesting as fiction. The story of a man unable to escape the consequences of his misdeeds is something of a fictional cliché. So I reimagined the story: a man is involved in a car crash. He is uninjured but the young woman driver of the other car is trapped. He risks his life to save her but the car catches fire and explodes before he can get to her. Sometime later, her ghost appears to him at night. They fall in love. Torrid sex scenes. Problems emerge. She becomes possessive and jealous. He is trying to regain control of the family business and, to his horror, his ghostly lover assists by killing his rivals. Not great, I thought, but enough to get me writing and I would surely much improve it as I progressed.
I am, by trade, a writer and make a living by writing for others: books, articles, reports, speeches and the like, mainly for business leaders and people in public life. For as long as I can remember, my ambition was to write a crime or thriller novel. I had no success. Every now and then, I would think up a basic plot, write half a dozen chapters, read them over, conclude that both storyline and writing were embarrassingly poor and abandon for the time being the idea of writing a novel. Now, I felt that I was onto something. I worked on the novel steadily and, as I reviewed my work, I was satisfied that it was good enough to attract the interest of a publisher.
Then everything changed. I dropped into hospital for what I assumed was a routine check-up and woke next day in a post-op bed, having undergone emergency open heart surgery, including a quadruple by-pass. In my muddled state of mind, I became convinced that I had physically died on the operating table and was now in an illusory environment. My memory was gone and I had no idea who I was. I would look around the ward at the patient in the bed, the doctors and nurses and try to work out which of them was me. Temporary hallucinatory states are not uncommon after major surgery and by the following day my mind was more or less its old self.
When I recalled the sheer power and intensity of my delusions, my absolute conviction that I was dead, I decided that my novel was going to take a new direction. I switched my main character, Kieran Sheridan Le Fanu, from third person to first person narrator and he would be a Dublin business executive in his thirties who is attempting to regain control of the family business that is now used by a drug-dealing outfit to launder money. He is trying to maintain an appearance of normality despite being convinced that he is really dead, killed in a car crash, medically a form of Cotard’s Syndrome. He meets and loves the beautiful and enigmatic Aoife, who is, he learns, an angel. Except he doesn’t believe in angels.
The reason I was able to write, complete and have Le Fanu’s Angel published where my previous attempts at fiction had failed was because the mainspring of the novel was the paranormal. I have a keen if sceptical fascination with issues such as the possible existence of an afterlife, reincarnation, the illusion of reality and parallel worlds and such like and I was very comfortable in featuring them in the novel.
At the same time, I wanted to give the paranormal elements plausibility. There is a significant body of research and case studies by reputable scientists and institutions that offer evidence that the paranormal should be taken seriously. I placed a fair amount of such information in the novel, via conversations and research by the narrator, in the style of Dan Brown. However, when I reread my completed draft, it looked as if my main purpose was to give readers a hard sell to convert them to an acceptance of the paranormal. My publisher, Dedalus Books, which was giving me a lot of good advice, urged me to delete all this explanatory matter. I did so and it was the better for it. I was, after all, writing a fictional work of entertainment.
I must mention two of the most fascinating figures of the past who, in their own way, greatly influenced my approach to Le Fanu’s Angel: the sparkling Hazel Lavery, whose unique contribution to Ireland gaining its independence is now largely forgotten; and, of course, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, one of the greatest writers of gothic ghost and terror mysteries, well known today but not nearly enough.
(c) Brian Keogh
About Le Fanu’s Angel by Brian Keogh
The life of Kieran Sheridan LeFanu, a young Dublin advertising agency director, is abruptly upended when he is the sole survivor of a gruesome car crash. In the aftermath, he develops a form of Cotard’s Syndrome, the belief that he is dead and possibly experiencing the drawn-out delirium of a mind hovering between consciousness and extinction.
He meets and loves the enchanting and enigmatic Aoife and struggles to differentiate between memory, fantasy, and reality, with bizarre and inexplicable encounters where he is attacked by strangers, pursued by a vicious stalker and transported to a haunting afterlife dimension. In a final showdown, he faces real and paranormal foes and is given an astounding revelation.
LeFanu’s Angel is a novel full of excitement, mystery and the unexpected. It is a literary delight set in historic and contemporary Dublin, with its vibrant business and social life, and hidden underworld of vice and crime.
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