By Bernard MacLaverty
A sensitive and compassionate novel exploring how people with the finest motives might find themselves reviled and outside the law.
“The tide had withdrawn almost completely, leaving the sand of the beach flat, except for where stones and other debris stood. Here the sand had been hollowed out on the seaward side in the shape of a plunging comet’s tail. The same pattern had formed round washed-up jelly-fish, with their delicate lilac traceries of innards. The Atlantic roared continuously on to the rocks at the point.
At four o’clock the two Brothers in buttoned black soutanes moved across the beach. They had come from the Home, set like a fortress on the cliff above the point. They walked the hard flat sand, talking.”
Copyright © Bernard MacLaverty. Reproduced by permission of the author c/o Rogers, Coleridge and White Ltd., 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN
On a promontory jutting out into the Atlantic wind stands the Home run by Brother Benedict, where boys are taught a little of God and a lot of fear. To Michael Lamb, one of the youngest brothers, the regime is without hope and when he inherits a small legacy he defies his elders and runs away, taking with him a twelve year old boy, Owen Kane.
Radio Eireann call it a kidnapping. For Michael the act is the beginning of Owen’s salvation. Posing as father and son, they concentrate on discovering the happiness that is so unfamiliar to them both. But as the outside world closes in around them - as time, money and opportunity run out - Michael finds himself moving towards a solution that is as uncompromising as it is inspired by love.
This could be construed as a metaphor for the ways in which people, during the Troubles, found that the formal and legal definitions of right and wrong don’t function for people in desperation. It is however, a story about a real scandal, which would shock Ireland when unfolded twenty years later, the abuse of children in loveless care homes run by religious order.
...a small masterpiece about contemporary Ireland…
Harpers and Queen (June 1980)
Just once in a while there comes a novel so moving yet simple that you put it down at the end feeling emotionally shattered. That was my reaction to Lamb, a brilliant first novel by Bernard MacLaverty.
The Daily Express (5 June 1980)
In its compressed power, compassion and culminating hopelessness… Lamb recalls the early James Hanley, a comparison intended as the highest praise… the coda on a Donegal beach touches springs of feeling accessible only to a born writer with a manifest destiny.
Christopher Wordsworth in The Guardian (5 June 1980)
This powerful novella is a wrenching experience of love lost and so might also be considered a parable of the country in which it is set: Ireland… a beautiful, poignant story… a startling memorable end.
Publishers Weekly (18 July 1980)
The reader is drawn into an emotional affinity rarely achieved by serious writing in our time… This is an impressive book.
Julia O’Faolain in The New York Times Book Review (2nd November 1980)
Lamb will move you by the grace of its prose and by its honesty and emotional accuracy. It is not easy to write about innocence in a world like ours but Bernard MacLaverty has done it. This is a beautiful novel.
John Gabree in Newsday Long Island, New York
If there is such a genre as the first novel then Lamb is the finest example of it for decades.
Alan Bold in The Sunday Standard (2nd May 82)
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