Tense and suspenseful; reflective and arresting, Mike McCormack’s This Plague of Souls is a dazzling example of modern-day noir that recently had us under its powerfully haunting spell.
Kicking off when its protagonist, Nealon, returns to his family home to find it empty – where are his wife and son? — a series of phone calls from an anonymous man has Nealon gripped, and sets him on a road trip to meet him. Unveiling a man’s losses, fears and reflections on family and fatherhood along the way, the revelations and outcome are entirely, brilliantly unexpected.
Given the novel’s extraordinary power to deliver all the tension and intrigue of a classy thriller while also posing deep — yet relatable — philosophical questions, This Plague of Souls is ideal for book club discussions. With that in mind, here are some questions to kick-start that very thing.
1. What kind of story were you expecting from the novel’s title? Did your reading experience match your expectations?
2. “There is no mention of his name and he is thankful for that.” How does the author create suspense through the novel?
3. Did you relate to Nealon? Did you like him? Did your view of him shift through the course of the novel? Is he demonstrably “a man who skilfully came at the world from a different angle”, as was his reputation as an artist?
4. Why did you think the man was making the phone calls?
5. “While Cuan was everything a child should be, he was also Nealon’s proof that he himself really was of this world…What mattered was that this child had reached inside Nealon and pulled something from him that was new and lasting, some thread of connectedness with this world.” What does this reveal about Nealon? Might these feelings about his son and parenthood be connected to the revelations that come at the end of the novel?
6. Discuss the significance of the names of the three sections of the novel. Namely, Country Feedback, No Traffic and a Dry Road, and This Plague of Souls. What function does this three-part structure serve?
7. “The world owes you a debt, Nealon — without the likes of you, right and wrong would not be so immediately obvious.” So says the stranger when he meets Nealon in Dublin. How is this so? What does he mean?
8. Were you surprised by the man’s disclosures? Did you think they were a satisfying turn for the novel to take?
9. What do you think the writer was trying to say in writing This Plague of Souls? Will you read more of his work as a result of reading this?