Old God’s Time by Sebastian Barry

Tom Kettle is an Irish detective who has recently retired to a home overlooking the Irish sea. It’s unclear at first how long he has been leading this solitary existence, but his life is thrown into turmoil when two younger detectives from his former squad appear at his door late at night. They question him about a case that he worked on that he wants nothing to do with. He offers them a meal and a bed and, in the morning, they are gone.

Initially, the time in which this novel is set is unclear – it could be any time in the last 50 years, but it slowly becomes apparent that it is sometime in the late 1990s. Tom is mourning the loss of his wife and family and coming to terms with his solitary existence. He is drawn into helping the detectives investigate two priests. This novel is informed with an ice-cold fury about the tremendous stain that the Catholic Church has poisoned Ireland with. Written in a beautiful and poetic style, the details reveal themselves almost out of the mist. The generations of trauma and horror that the church has tormented the Irish with makes you wonder why the Irish fought the English but not that institution. As one of the detectives tells another, ‘But the priests have brought this on themselves. They’ve cooked the devil’s stew for themselves. And now they must sup.’

Sebastian Barry has twice been shortlisted for the Booker Prize and twice won the Costa Book of the Year, and after reading this I can see why. An absolutely beautiful and moving Irish book in a year where Claire Keegan and The Banshees of Inisherin have already staked out a large chunk of our cultural space.

Cover image for Old God's Time

Old God’s Time

Sebastian Barry

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