"This tense literary thriller sees a man in lonely limbo ponder his past before coming face to face with it as a brooding, haunting story unfolds in entirely unexpected directions."
Mike McCormack’s This Plague of Souls casts a powerful spell. Raw, reflective and unexpected, it’s a stylish, noir-ish thriller that ripples with the dislocation, loss and memories of its philosophical protagonist — a man who’s alone in the world, but for the stranger at the end of a phone.
The novel’s opening segment, Country Feedback, is set in West Ireland, where we meet Nealon, a man who’s recently returned to his family home after a long period of incarceration. The house is empty, he has no idea where his wife and son have gone, and his only human connection is with a stranger on the end of a phone. A man who keeps calling him, speaking in half-riddles as he persists in suggesting they should meet. Nealon is reflective and feels dislocated as he ponders his past, and his present in-limbo situation.
In the second section, No Traffic and a Dry Road, we accompany Nealon as he drives to meet the stranger in Dublin. The journey sees him reflect further on the family life he once had, and on fatherhood, such as the way his son “had reached inside Nealon and pulled something from him that was new and lasting, some thread of connectedness with this world.”
Then comes a radio announcement about a maximum-security alert, which leads Nealon to wonder “how the country will acquit itself. Where will it look to for guidance and precedent? What will be the communal response?” After hearing “unconfirmed news a hospital has been requisitioned as a quarantine unit”, he checks into a hotel, which heralds the final segment of the novel.
This Plague of Souls sees Nealon meet the man who’s been calling him. “Why are we here, what do you want from me?” he asks. Little by little, the man reveals he knows every detail of Nealon’s life — everything about his upbringing, his travels, his work, and his arrest for identity theft. He also claims to know where Nealon’s wife and son are. His reasons for making contact are entirely surprising. So, too, are the revelations about Nealon’s past. As a result, and as a result of the pithy, perfectly-paced lyrical build-up, This Plague of Souls is a slippery, slickly haunting read.
|Primary Genre||Modern and Contemporary Fiction|
Closing date: 14/12/2023
Closing date: 10/12/2023