The Deadwood Encore by Kathleen Murray is published with Harper Collins Ireland and is described as ‘a brilliantly inventive and witty novel about legacy and birth right’.
“I thought I’d reached the end… thought that whatever happened or didn’t, wasn’t nothing to do with me anymore. Now I’m wondering is this the end of my own story or the start of someone else’s? Or are we all tangled up in a middle that goes on and on?”
From the opening pages I immediately knew that I was about to be treated to a very unique experience. The Deadwood Encore is a must read for all fans of Kevin Barry, Lisa McInerney and Caoilinn Hughes, with similarities in terms of the buzzing language, the wit and the character driven tale. As a debut it is quite an incredible novel but Kathleen Murray has pedigree, with her already recognised expertise in the short story arena, having had quite a few pieces of work published in many literary anthologies, as well as being nominated for (and being a winner of) short story awards.
The Deadwood Encore is the story of the Whelan family following the death of Billy Whelan, father and local healer. Billy Whelan tragically died in an accident leaving his wife and seven sons to grieve for his loss. Only Frank and his twin brother now remain at home, with the other brothers scattered across the globe. Frank is the seventh son of a seventh son. His father had the ability to cure ailments, a gift (or a curse depending who you’re talking to) that made him a familiar and in demand individual in their local community. After his unexpected death Frank is left with the expectation that he will fill his father’s shoes. But Frank, now in his twenties, is unsure of his own healing powers. Folk do come to his home looking for assistance for inconsequential afflictions, like warts and ringworm, but Frank is not convinced that he is really helping anyone. He is full of self-doubt.
Frank’s mother, Mrs Whelan, aka the Mater, ‘travels to the beat of her own drum’. She is a wonderfully portrayed woman who works part-time in the local supermarket but her true calling is connecting with the spirits and reading the tea leaves. Quirky, eccentric, warm-hearted and not your typical Irish mother, Mrs. Whelan is dealing with her husband’s passing in her own way. Bernie, Frank’s twin, has his own personal issues to deal with. Although poles apart in every way, Bernie and Frank always have each other’s back. Frank is accepting of most things he sees and hears but is always conscious of society in general not being as accepting. The judgemental nature of folk affects him and he worries. When Bernie reveals his future plans, Frank is shaken. Bernie always lived an uninhibited life but this new development in his future concerns Frank. As the seventh son of a seventh son, and with dwindling confidence levels, Frank is unsure of where Bernie’s announcement will leave him. Frank has questions, lots of questions and he finds solace in the most unlikely place.
With his best friend Hopper by his side, the pair embark on an odyssey that takes them down a very offbeat path, as they explore their past, present and possible futures. A combination of unconventional, wacky scenarios and multiple touching moments provide the reader with an extraordinary experience in this one-of-a-kind debut. There are side chapters throughout the book that provide the thoughts from beyond, interspersed with words from Perry Como tracks and other well known songs.
Trust me when I tell you that The Deadwood Encore is a book really unlike anything you will have read before. Kathleen Murray has delivered an electric debut with an idiosyncratic voice. The language used throughout is playful and full of Irish wit while, at the same time, conveying the important message of being true to yourself at all times. Frank goes on a journey of self-discovery with assistance from a rather peculiar source yet it all kind of makes sense in a very weird and unorthodox fashion.
The Deadwood Encore is an extremely imaginative and unique read, a comedy, a journey, a novel unafraid to be different and one that I highly recommend. I for one am already looking forward to the next book from Kathleen Murray, a new voice that deserves a place on everyone’s bookshelf!
(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)
Order your copy online here.