Some thoughts on The Black Snow

This is from an interview last year: THE BLACK SNOW US COVER

DA: You’ve recently released your second novel The Black Snow, how has the experience differed from the first?

PL: Everybody talks about the sophomore slump, but I would describe The Black Snow as the sophomore slaughter. Every day was such a struggle — my first act as a professional novelist — and all the while you wonder if it can be done again. I wasn’t right for about two months after I finished and submitted it.

The Black Snow is set in rural Donegal in 1945 and opens with the burning of a byre. That opening is the kind of set-piece that I’ve been keen for a long time to write, the kind of book opening that carries you along for 7,000 words and then sets you down again elated. I’ve no idea if I’ve achieved that but it was certainly the intention. What follows after the fire, and the death of a man, is a simmering cauldron of suspense, suspicion and resentment. The main people in the book are a family that have returned to Ireland after living in New York. One of the things I’m examining is the reality of living the dream once you’ve attained it, and what happens once the mythology has been ripped apart. I realized when I was finished with this book that some might see in it a systematic dismantling of the Irish pastoral. What I do know is that it is a very claustrophobic book — a mystery story, a thriller, an existentialist fable, and quite different to Red Sky in Morning.

DA: The search for the unattainable seems to be a recurring theme of, for want of a better word, Irish-American culture from Fitzgerald’s Gatsby to John Ford’s The Searchers. In both of those examples, there’s the added warning of ‘be careful, you just might attain whatever it is you’re after’. The Black Snow would seem to suggest the trouble only begins when you’ve found this elusive home or community?

PL: Red Sky in Morning took a hard look at the myth of America. The Black Snow does the same for Ireland. I wanted to examine the myth of the Irish pastoral, the myth of romantic Ireland. The myth of community. The myth of continuity. The myth of knowledge and certainty. I liked the idea of taking an emigrant with a dream of Ireland and giving him what he wanted — and then putting it to the test. Does it stand up? The trouble begins during a time when Barnabas Kane, the novel’s central character, takes everything in life for granted. He is not future-proofed. I am very interested in this — how people’s innate optimism blinds us to great and sudden changes. And how we are incapable of dealing with such change. Haven’t we all just lived through such a moment?

I went into this book wanting to do two things — to write a more characterful novel, and to explore the idea of philosophical blindness. It seems to me that however bullheaded Barnabas is, Billy and Eskra play as much a role in the tragedy. It was very tricky to write a story where little is explained and yet each character fully believes their own interpretation of events, and then acts upon it, each one pulling a string that leads inevitably to the tragic conclusion.
DA: The book is set in Donegal, which is also where Red Sky in Morning begins. It’s always struck me as the most intriguing county in Ireland, wild and rugged, perched at the edge of Europe, north but not Northern, part of the South but reaching further north than anywhere else in Ulster. It reflects the absurdity of our divisions here and yet it’s uniquely distinct from it all as well. It seems curious that it hasn’t been featured more in literature beyond great individual writers like Peadar O’Donnell and Frank McGuinness. What interests you about it as a setting physically or psychologically?

PL: Miles Davis has as great line — “I’ll play it and tell you what it is after”. I don’t choose the settings for my books. They are given to me, out of the dark of my own imagination. I left Donegal when I was 18 and it was the last place I ever expected to write about. Somehow, through the workings of  memory and imagination, it has been given back to me, reconfigured as a place of mythic power. What goes into the mix? Perhaps, it is the forlorn remoteness. The epic backdrop of mountains and bogland. Its distance from the rest of Ireland.

Such a setting allows me to create two types of time in my novels. There is the present time of the characters who live caught up in the white-hot moment of their lives. And there is a sense of deep, geological time that creates a sense of the ineffable, the tragic world view, the abyss. I think my writing is powered by an enormous tension I feel between the humanist and the post-humanist view. Between the subjectivity of living and and the objectivity of death. I want to put on the page a sense of the absolute centredness that is each life — how important each one of us feels our lives to be. And I want to rest against that a sense of the absolute uncenteredness — the greater objectivity of the universe, that sense of the vast ineffable, the abyss that every life falls into.

DA: The mix of simmering paranoid neighbourly claustrophobia with the agoraphobia of wild nature permeates the book, both in a sense fuelling the same emotions. Is it a case of as the old saying goes, “If God invented the countryside and man the city, then the devil invented the townland”, not in any diabolical way of course but in the sense of being an environment fertile for feuds and envies as well as potential solidarity in the face of hardship? Is that letting cities off the hook?

PL: Human behaviour is human behaviour. As far as I am concerned, it does not change very much. Perhaps, though, it is easier to unmask it in a rural setting. What I like so much about the setting of Carnarvan in The Black Snow is its isolation and spareness. Such a playground allows me to drill down to the more essential stuff — I want to mine for human and philosophical truths as best I can. I’m not sure I could get this kind of material out of a book set in a city. I would find it more difficult. I would be distracted by all that noise and glitter and its surface politics. A lot of writing set in cities is about mapping the moment. Right now, I am not that kind of writer. I want to map what is timeless and unchanging.

Full interview here: http://www.humag.co/features/conjuring-the-abyss

By |April 1st, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off

Kevin Powers on The Black Snow

TYB

Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds

I am very pleased to share this blurb from Kevin Powers, author of Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting and the National Book Award shortlisted novel The Yellow Birds, in advance of THE BLACK SNOW’s release in the US.  

Kevin says, “The Black Snow is a staggeringly beautiful book. Immensely powerful, but subtly so. I was mesmerized by it. I read it in one go, but I’ll go back to it for sure.”

Philipp Meyer, whose epic novel The Son was runner-up for last year’s Pulitzer Prize, called THE BLACK SNOW: “A brilliant, hypnotic book. You will lose yourself in the sounds and rhythms — Lynch makes the page sing like the old masters.”

Meanwhile, Ron Rash, author of Serena and The Cove, has said about the book: “Lynch establishes himself as one of his generation’s very finest novelists… The Black Snow is a dark, mesmerizing study in obsession, despair, and secrets too long held”.

By |March 31st, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off

Kirkus Star for The Black Snow

As we come closer to the North American release of THE BLACK SNOW, the notoriously tough US book bible Kirkus has given the book a Starred Review — a much sought after designation in the US book industry. The Kirkus Star is reserved for “Books of Exceptional Merit”. In 2013, RED SKY IN MORNING also received a starred review.

The book magazine says of THE BLACK SNOW, “With his second novel, Lynch has a Seamus Heaney ear for the sights and sounds of rural life, making his prose thick and jagged, sometimes ponderous and often evocative. Lynch evokes so many shades of guilt, pride, innocence, righteousness, and punishment that the book might help found a religion….”

In another advance review, Booklist says THE BLACK SNOW is, “at once so starkly brutal and so beautiful that it is impossible to look away” and calls the book, “A stunning tale of retribution and disintegration”.

Meanwhile, a review in Publishers Weekly calls THE BLACK SNOW a “stark tale of tragic consequences” and says, “Lynch’s beautifully intertwined emotional and physical landscapes have a timelessness.”

 

 

By |March 25th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off

Ireland and UK paperback of The Black Snow on sale next week

The UK & Ireland paperback of The Black Snow goes on sale the first week of March. The-Black-Snow

Pulitzer prize short-listed author of The Son, Philipp Meyer calls it, “A brilliant, hypnotic book. You will lose yourself in the sounds and rhythms — Lynch makes the page sing like the old masters”.

US legend Ron Rash, author of Serena, says about this book,“Lynch establishes himself as one of his generation’s very finest novelists. The Black Snow is a dark, mesmerizing study in obsession, despair, and secrets too long held”.

Meanwhile, Booker prize nominee Donal Ryan, says of The Black Snow: “Some of the most beautiful writing I have ever read. Vivid, unsettling and intensely enjoyable”. To read some of the many reviews of this book in Ireland and the UK, click on the Press link above.

By |February 27th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off

Philipp Meyer and Ron Rash on The Black Snow

FACEBOOKblurbsAs preparations for Little Brown’s release of THE BLACK SNOW in the US & Canada next May are gathering pace, I am so pleased to share some early blurbs for the book that have come from two truly great American writers.
Philipp Meyer, whose epic novel The Son was runner-up for last year’s Pulitzer Prize, has just said this about THE BLACK SNOW: “A brilliant, hypnotic book. You will lose yourself in the sounds and rhythms — Lynch makes the page sing like the old masters.”
Meanwhile, Ron Rash, author of Serena and The Cove, sent us this: “Lynch establishes himself as one of his generation’s very finest novelists… The Black Snow is a dark, mesmerizing study in obsession, despair, and secrets too long held”.
It’s been a great and busy year with many festivals at home and abroad, and I want to thank everybody who made 2014 such a memorable year, bought my books and came to my events, and to the many people who make such events happen.

By |December 23rd, 2014|Uncategorized|Comments Off

US artwork for The Black Snow

THE BLACK SNOW US COVER

The Black Snow by Paul Lynch, (Little, Brown May 2013)

Here is the artwork for the North American May 13 release of The Black Snow.

From the Little, Brown website:

The startling new novel from a brilliant young Irish novelist on the rise, who “has a sensational gift for a sentence” (Colum McCann).

In Donegal in the spring of 1945, a farmhand runs into a burning barn and does not come out alive. The farm’s owner, Barnabas Kane, can only look on as his friend dies and all 43 of his cattle are destroyed in the blaze.

Following the disaster, the bull-headed and proudly self-sufficient Barnabas is forced to reach out to the community for assistance. But resentment simmers over the farmhand’s death, and Barnabas and his family begin to believe their efforts at recovery are being sabotaged.

Barnabas is determined to hold firm. Yet his teenage son struggles under the weight of a terrible secret, and his wife is suffocated by the uncertainty surrounding their future. As Barnabas fights ever harder for what is rightfully his, his loved ones are drawn ever closer to a fate that should never have been theirs.

In The Black Snow, Paul Lynch takes the pastoral novel and–with the calmest of hands—tears it apart. With beautiful, haunting prose, Lynch illuminates what it means to live through crisis, and puts to the test our deepest certainties about humankind.

By |November 23rd, 2014|Uncategorized|Comments Off

Ron Rash blurb for The Black Snow

Ron-Rash-Nov-2013-1
VERY thrilled that Ron Rash has blurbed The Black Snow for its US publication next May. We are big fans of Ron in this house. Here it is:
“Lynch establishes himself as one of his generation’s very finest novelists. The Black Snow is a dark, mesmerizing study in obsession, despair, and secrets too long held.”

By |November 1st, 2014|Uncategorized|Comments Off

Red Sky in Morning nominated for Le Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger.

Though it is slightly old news (I only found out last week), Red Sky in Morning has been nominated for France’s best foreign book prize — le Prix du meilleur livre étranger. The prix has been previously won by Salmon Rushdie, Orhan Pamuk, Peter Carey and Colm Toibin, to name but a few.

The books are:
Joseph BOYDEN Dans le grand cercle du monde
Paul LYNCH Un ciel rouge, le matin
Alexander MAKSIK La mesure de la dérive
Alberto GARLINI Les Noirs et les rouges
Amy Grace LOYD Le bruit des autres
Drago JANCAR Cette nuit, je l’ai vueLYNCH Paul Un ciel rouge, le matin

By |July 28th, 2014|Uncategorized|Comments Off

How I wrote The Black Snow

The Black Snow

The Black Snow came to me first in dream, a vision of rural apocalypse. I saw a burning byre. Cattle in flames running into the night. I woke and lay in the grasp of it. Characters began to appear out of their own dark. I felt the tug of a storyline. From dream I had been given the beginning of a novel. I reached for my phone, typed it all in, and went back to sleep. It was 5am.

The next morning, I began to think about what happened during the night. I teased out trajectories, the shape and texture of character. But then doubt crept in. This would have to be a novel set in Ireland in the 1940s. Worse, it was a story set on an Irish farm. I could never do that – I was not going to be another Irish writer who writes a damn farm novel. I allowed myself to forget about it.

Months later, in April 2011, I finished writing Red Sky in Morning. It was the start of a journey to find an agent and eventually a publisher. It would take another two years before that novel would be published. But I never stopped writing. I had an idea for a second book and began immediately. The idea began to drift, shape-shifted into something else. That then expanded, became again something different. I found myself grappling with an enormous sprawl of a novel that I had not yet the technical ability to master. Worse, I had written 40,000 words but couldn’t hear the book hum. The novel had no central nervous system. I couldn’t even find a beginning. I had a crisis on my hands.

Some writers tell you, finish everything you write. I say, know when to stop. It was a major decision to abandon that novel, but deep down I knew I was right. A day of despair followed. For eight months I had a second novel to write and now I had none. My agent was preparing to submit Red Sky in Morning to publishers. I needed to have a second project in hand. I decided to sleep on the problem, rise early and meditate. I knew that a solution would come.

I will never forget the moment it did. What arrived was that vision of the burning byre. But this time it was different – deeper, more fully realized. I saw before me Part One of a book – a moment of rolling action that picks up the reader and puts them down again 30 pages later, staggering and breathless. I thought of McEwan’s hot-air balloon. DeLillo’s ball game. I could hear the hum. Could feel the central nervous system. I could see then the entirely of a novel. And I knew I still did not want to write it.

This became one of the major lessons of my career. You must write the books that you are given – not the ones you want to write. You must write the books that cause within you the deepest anxiety because there lies your best material. I wrote every sentence of The Black Snow in a kind of willing dread. Every day for 14 months, I sat down to write a novel I did not want to write, and so it was written.

I began to realize that, despite my anxiety, my first instinct was right. I did not want to write an Irish farm novel – and so I didn’t. I found myself writing against the Irish farm novel. I wrote an allegory for a post-boom Ireland, an act of creative destruction that tears the Irish pastoral apart. By the end of the book, nothing of that world remains. The reader wakes from the dream to discover the cold reality of morning.
This article was originally written for foyles.co.uk

By |May 14th, 2014|Uncategorized|Comments Off

Round-up of reviews in France

LYNCH Paul Un ciel rouge, le matinMy editor at Albin Michel has sent this along — a round-up in translation of what has been said about Red Sky in Morning in the French national press…

“The most astonishing first novel of the year. At the point of writing, already among the greatest talents of Irish literature”

— Julien Bisson, Lire (France)

“The art of the storytelling is so impressive, the writing so poetic, painful and beautiful at the same time, that it makes for a unique reading experience”

— Bruno Corty , Le Figaro (France)

“The language is rich, sophisticated, lyrical and violent at the same time… a first novel worthy of Cormac McCarthy, Saul Bellow, John Banville, Colum McCann, Vladimir Nabokov, or authors of such legacy.”

— Emmanuel Romer, La Croix (France)

“The new guard of Irish letters never ceases to fascinate with its visionary power. To these names must immediately be added Paul Lynch, because his first novel is simply masterful

— André Clavel, Le Temps (Switzerland)

Nothing is missing in this transcontinental western, written by a master of landscape and light”

— Véronique Rossignol, Livres Hebdo (France)

“This first novel by an extraordinary writer has received a tremendous reception in the Anglo-Saxon world. The bet is that he will be as successful in France, where such talent will not fail to burst into the open”

— Sophie Royere , Lemagazine.info (France)

“A dark poetry infuses this first novel of sound and fury. A young writer promised to a brilliant future”
— Le Journal du Dimance

“In a few words: the craftsmanship of a great stylist”
— La Quinzaine Littéraire

“The beauty of his writing imbued with lyricism is dazzling”
— Elle

“Influenced and nourished by a past more mythical than historical, “Red Sky in Morning” is as contemporary a novel as it can be. Its rhythms and its visions, and its suspense, come from our age’s visual and cinematographic culture. With its mixed influences, its shattered geography which opens on the beginnings of America and modernity, this novel blends irreconcilable temporalities”
— Le Monde de Livres

“There is in Paul Lynch’s writing a kind of lyrical and poetic fever which transcends everything, including the most harrowing scenes. Red Sky in Morning takes us on such a journey that when we come to the end, we feel like we have dreamed it all”
— Les Echoes

“An amazing first novel, strikingly beautiful, with a nervous pace that takes the reader on an unforgettable journey”
— PAGE

“Clear and intense as a tragedy, the novel reveals in Paul Lynch an incredibly talented Irish writer”
— Trois Couleurs

By |May 3rd, 2014|Uncategorized|Comments Off