Inch Levels by Neil Hegarty is September’s Irish Times Book Club pick
A powerful debut novel set in the landscapes of Ireland’s northern borderlands
Inch Levels: reclaimed land on the shoreline of Lough Swilly
September’s Irish Times Book Club selection is Inch Levels by Neil Hegarty.
Inch Levels spans 50 years of Irish life: from rural Donegal in the 1930s, as the British navy relinquishes its naval bases in the Free State; to a Derry electrified by the experience of the second World World War; to the onset of the Troubles, in all their grief and human complexities.
Shortlisting it for the 2017 Kerry Group Novel of the Year Award, the judges AL Kennedy and Neel Mukherjee wrote: “Hegarty’s novel revolves – achingly, obsessively, guiltily – around a young girl’s senseless murder. The death of this innocent is shockingly invoked and haunts a landscape and a handful of lives, years after the event. A man lies in his hospital bed, besieged by his own death and visited by his family and the pasts they bring with them. The tensions of blood relations, the wonders of our parents’ lives before us and the ever-widening depths of bereavement are all explored here with a hypnotic vividness. From natural details to perfectly rendered thought and feeling, this is a triumphant book.”
Patrick Jackson lies on his deathbed in Derry and recalls a family history marked by secrecy and silence, and a striking absence of conventional pieties. He remembers the death of an eight-year-old girl, whose body was found on reclaimed land called Inch Levels on the shoreline of Lough Swilly. And he is visited by his beloved but troubled sister Margaret, by his despised brother-in-law Robert and by Sarah, his hard, unchallengeable mother. Each of them could talk about events in the past that might explain the bleakness of their relationships, but leaving things unsaid has become a way of life. Guilt and memory beat against them, as shock waves from bombs in Derry travel down the river to shake the windows of those who have escaped the city.
Neil Hegarty was born in Derry in 1970. His non-fiction titles include Frost: That Was the Life That Was (WH Allen), the authorised biography of David Frost; and The Story of Ireland (BBC Books), which accompanied the BBC/RTÉ series of the same name. His short fiction, essays and reviews have been widely published. He lives in Dublin.
Over the next four weeks we shall publish a series of articles by the book’s editor, Neil Belton, as well as writers and critics including Danielle McLaughlin, Andrea Carter, Caitriona O’Reilly, Lucy Collins and Nicholas Allen, starting next Monday with an essay by the author himself. The series culminates in an interview with Neil Hegarty conducted by Laura Slattery of The Irish Times at the Irish Writers Centre in Dublin’s Parnell Square on Thursday, September 28th, at 7.30pm. It will be recorded for a podcast which will be available from September 30th on irishtimes.com
“A perceptive and moving study of remorse and resilience, of the legacy violence leaves behind, and of the intricacies of family life; in the world as Neil Hegarty conjures it, old secrets never die, and what’s past is never past.”
“Unsettling and thought-provoking, with just enough ambiguity and nuance to convince, this is a bold and well-crafted debut.”
Houman Barekat in the Irish Times
“Vividly evokes the wild beauty of the coastal landscape around Lough Swilly and reeled me in with its gradual revelation of family secrets.”
Danielle McLaughlin in The Irish Times
“A haunting, beautifully written book about relationships, secrets, and the myriad ways in which the past resonates through the present.”
Tana French in the Irish Independent
“Hegarty has a gift for lyrical description, and his authorial detachment adds to a pervading sense of bleakness.”
“An engrossing and enticing tale.”
“An ambitious and engrossing debut novel ... an intriguing blend of kidnap/murder mystery and fractured family history-fuelled drama infused with evocative descriptions ... not everyone can spin a yarn as well as Neil Hegarty”
“The topography of the north-east plays a leading role in the novel, its ragged shoreline, the skerries and islets in foaming waves, silver scree, hillside bracken and heather, all form a stable background to Jackson’s ephemeral memories ... There is much to ponder in this exploration of how we view the past.”