The Black Snow No 5 in French Booksellers’ Awards

The French booksellers’ awards has voted The Black Snow as one of the five best international novels published in this year’s rentrée littéraire. Three-hundred booksellers voted from a pool of 205 novels in two categories — French and foreign novels, according to Livres Hebdo.

The best international novels were:

Toni Morrison — Issuances (Bourgois)

Marisha Pessl — Interior Night  (Gallimard)

Jon Kalman Stefansson — Moreover, fish do not have feet of (Gallimard)

Javier Cercas — The Impostor (Actes Sud) 

Paul Lynch — The Black Snow (Albin Michel)


By |September 26th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off

“The total strangeness that is life” — Electric Lit interview

black snowPaul Lynch’s second novel, The Black Snow (Little, Brown and Company, 2015), deserves every writer’s attention for its masterful use of language. Lynch’s prose aligns perfectly with the minds of the protagonists, Barnabas and Eskra Kane: swirling in ever more eccentric loops like Yeats’s lost falcon when we follow the husband; initially ticking and determined then streaming out like an angered hive of bees when we follow the wife.

Nature, and the language which describes it, is elemental in The Black Snow. The craggy lyricism reminds me most of Ted Hughes, where a tree can be “A priest from a different land,” who “Fulminated / Against heather, black stones, blown water. // Excommunicated the clouds / Damned the wind / Cast the bog pools into outer darkness / Smote the horizons / With the jawbones of emptiness // Till he ran out of breath — ”

Lynch’s prose is so vital and so rich, capturing the ineffable meaning of the fire in a way that bare syntax could not. It makes more sense to me to juxtapose his writing with lyric poems than it does to compare it to grit lit or Irish noir.

Critic Alan Cheuse was an outspoken advocate of Paul Lynch. Of The Black Snow he wrote, “As Lynch presents the story, it becomes an out of the ordinary creation, a novel in which sentence after sentence comes so beautifully alive in all the fullness of its diction and meaning that most other contemporary Irish fiction looks sheepish by comparison.”

In 2013, I was fortunate enough to meet Paul Lynch on the red carpeted floors of the Long Hall pub in Dublin. We’ve remained friends since.

Will Chancellor: To date, and I don’t imagine this ever really changing, you’ve written novels with a slow literary speed limit—readers should proceed at maybe twenty pages an hour? This strikes me as a little insane in our scan-centric culture, not dissimilar to a cyclist on the side of a freeway. Do you fear for your life?

Paul Lynch: I do think you must always write for the ideal reader. But it would be folly to worry too much about who exactly that is. Nor do I worry much about the reading speed of a sentence. I think instead about what the sentence is asking for, its texture and feel, the inevitability within it that pulls the reader on.

I ask myself if I have got close enough to what I am writing about. Often, I find the closer you get, the more texture you are going to end up with. That for sure will slow a reader down. And great if it does. Literature is about contemplation not speed-reading for plot or fact. I try to give the reader what I call the startling moment—to take them down to the heartbeat of a character. To open the moment out in all its richness.

There will always be people born wired for books. Every age has its contemplatives.

I certainly do not fear for the life of literature. There will always be people born wired for books. Every age has its contemplatives. But for the writer now, as much as the reader, the internet is the great challenge, isn’t it? Sooner or later, every serious writer will face the question of how much they need to disengage from the noise and unwire their brain from distraction. I’ve got an iPhone in my pocket after I’m finished writing but I might as well be attached to a dopamine drip. The internet generates a constant fear of missing out. It is the tyranny of the new. But what the writer seeks is human truth and that is as old as the ages.

WC: Were you ever serious about photography? Have you ever had a creative impulse that you thought needed a medium other than that of prose?

PL: That is interesting because my writing imagination is intensely visual. A book often begins with a vision, something half-seen that needs to be explored. But it took me some time to figure out my imagination needs to be written. There was a period in my twenties when I thought I might be a photographer. I pored over masters such as Cartier-Bresson and took to the streets. I have an OK eye but I know I don’t have what it takes to be a visual artist. Though I did learn from it. How to see a face. The internal geometry of a scene. How to capture feeling in a place. Whatever it was that I unconsciously sought from photography unlocked when I began to write.

WC: Cartier-Bresson believed in, and tried to capture, that one decisive moment in any scene—not dissimilar to Flaubert’s search for le mot juste. Can you describe the process of finding the decisive moment, which I imagine happens in your head rather than an actual street, and then expanding that moment into a broader scene?

PL: I don’t believe there is any decisive moment as such for the fictional writer—writing is rewriting and though there are many passages in my books that are essentially a first take, everything else can take many, many attempts before it finds the ideal shape. And what makes it ideal? I know it when I read it.

But I do identify with how Cartier-Bresson likened the decisive moment to zen archery, that one must be egoless, alert and present fully in the moment. Meditation forms a part of my daily life and it guides my mind into the necessary space for writing. It seems that I enter some kind of alertful trance when I work. I become the moment in which I am writing. And yet I am there, the author, standing in the river and meddling with the flow.

Being open always to what is given to you is so important. The Black Snow was born entirely from a dream and the moment I woke I began taking notes. I saw the opening of the book as if seen from the sky, watching below as a byre stood burning and cattle ran flaming into the night. I did not know what it was other than that I had been gifted something that resonated deeply.

WC: My favorite scene in Black Snow is when Barnabas breaks the taboo of leaving historical ruins undisturbed and, instead, starts removing the stones of a famine cottage, one wagon load at a time, to build something new for his family. I read this as the work of the writer—particularly the Irish writer: to hell with the solemnity of the past if I need those stones to build out the vision in my head.

PL: King Lear and Job stood in the shadows while I was writing this novel—two men pushed hard by the fates. Barnabas gets pushed hard too and I admire how he rails against what is thrown at him. He is the kind of man who will do whatever it takes to survive, to rebuild his byre and regain a livelihood for his family. Ultimately, he crosses the line and starts to destroy a famine cottage for its stonework. And, of course, this is laden with symbolism. But I’ll leave that for the reader to unpack.

At a glance it might seem that The Black Snow is that certain type of Irish novel—a pastoral story set on a farm. But it seems to me this book is very different, that the writing became an act of creative destruction. That it dismantles the idea of the farm, the dream of the pastoral, the dream of Ireland, slowly, inevitably, piece by piece, until nothing of it is left. 

WC: The Black Snow reads like a ghost story without ghosts—the environment and the characters seem like they’re made of smoke. How do you view the supernatural in this book? 

PL: I am very intrigued by this question because this book is haunted—but not by ghosts. It seems to me what hides in plain sight is the inexplicable. It is an absence that is always present. It is the fourth main character in the book. How do you write about what can’t be written about? I try to bend language until it can suggest the ineffable, the great gap between what we think we know, and what we don’t know. The felt but not expressed. The intuited but not understood, what Wordsworth called “recognitions, dim and faint.” I wanted for the language to come up against the void. A difficult thing, really, and one has to force language into the strangest of places to accommodate this.

I’m interested in how blame rushes to fill an absence…What moves in that gap between knowing and unknowing I think of as ghosts.

Daniel Kahneman has a line: “our predilection for causal thinking exposes us to serious mistakes in evaluating the randomness of truly random events.” How do we respond when tragedy strikes and there is no answer for what caused it? In the book, Barnabas, Billy and Eskra each follow their own private convictions about how the fire started. There are no answers in The Black Snow and yet everybody believes they know who is to blame and thus act upon it, pulling the strings of the book’s ending together. I’m interested in how blame rushes to fill an absence. I wanted to explore how we live our lives in certainty, only to discover that we really know nothing, that the truth is we are philosophically blind. And yet the human mind cannot help but tell itself narratives to explain the world. What moves in that gap between knowing and unknowing I think of as ghosts.

WC: And yet the process of writing is one of intuitive flashes, things that lack causes.  

PL: Writing is following the sky of your mind. Who knows from where the winds blow. Or perhaps we are diviners. You cannot see the spring beneath but suddenly there is a twitch in the stick. What do you think?

WC: Diviners? There is something of the medieval serf in a writer—miserable or too dense to be miserable, toothless, holding up a chicken bone from the mud and swearing that it’s a fossil, indisputable proof in the existence of elves. 

How far removed are the Kanes from the miseries of medieval peasantry? You’ve set both of your novels to date in a rural world governed by the most universal needs: food, shelter, safety. It’s the world familiar to the speaker’s father in “Digging,” by Heaney:

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Can you talk about the decision to strip away everything–electricity, politics, global interdependence–and focus on primal and immediate concerns?

PL: What I’m interested in discovering is human truth. What does it mean to be alive within the dream of life? It seems to me there are essential human truths that have never changed throughout the ages, and that what we think of as unique to our own time is, in fact, the general. I am convinced, as a writer, that we must be able to witness ourselves as we have been moved and shaped by such universal forces. And so the writing must be shaped a certain way to meet this challenge. Being mythic certainly helps as it implies distance in order to see things better.

WC: Are these questions that have real, discoverable answers? Do you think you will find them in writing and say, whew, that was tough. Now on to my sci-fi book?

Fiction is necessary because it seems to me that only fiction can accommodate the total strangeness that is life.

PL: I believe it is worth writing to remind ourselves of what we can’t know. To remind ourselves that certainty is dangerous. That factual knowledge of the world casts only a small light. Fiction is necessary because it seems to me that only fiction can accommodate the total strangeness that is life. To remind us that truth is actually impossible. And as the writer grows, so changes their perception of the world and with it more things to write about. And so I can’t ever imagine getting tired.

Interview available here

By |September 26th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off

The Black Snow nominated for Prix Femina 2015

liste_Les-romans-etrangers-selectionnes-pour-le-Prix-Fem_1346The Black Snow (Le neige noire) has been nominated for the Prix Femina 2015…. that’s all for now.

By |September 17th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off

The Black Snow nominated for Prix du Roman Fnac 2015

The Black Snow, which will be published in France as La neige noir on 20 August, hprixfnacromanas been nominated for the 2015 prix du Roman Fnac, a major French literary prize.

The prix du Roman FNAC is open to French and international novelists and is a selection of 30 books out of 589 novels published over the course of just a couple of weeks as part of France’s ‘rentrée littéraire’.

In an advance review of La neige noir in France’s Livres Hebdo, critic Alexandre Fillon says: “Red Sky in Morning already showed the vast talent of Paul Lynch. The Donegal native illustrates again with a second opus equally successful… a novel that grabs you from the start”.


By |July 30th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off

The Black Snow review in the Toronto Star

Emily Donaldson reviews The Black Snow in The Toronto Star:

“Paul Lynch’s The Black Snow is, like its predecessor, Red Sky in Morning, a fierce and stunning novel written in chiaroscuro; its darkness always threatening to absorb its light. The Irish author’s gnarled, lustrous prose style is peppered with local vernacular; his literary sensibility an ornate version of the American Gothic of McCarthy and Faulkner. Throw in an elastic attitude to grammar and all of this has a thrillingly defamiliarizing effect: though he’s writing in English, Lynch makes you feel like you’ve magically acquired the ability to understand a foreign language…”

Full review here

By |July 30th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off

NPR’s Alan Cheuse reviews The Black Snow

NPR’s legendary book critic Alan Cheuse says The Black Snow’s prose is so gorgeous, it makes him want to give up writing…

Here’s the full review:

Former Dublin newsman Paul Lynch made his debut as a novelist a few years ago with a book called Red Sky in Morning, set in mid-19th century County Donegal, where a rage-driven farmer has committed a murder with devastating results. The Black Snow, Lynch’s second novel, returns us to Donegal, though at a later date, and he’s working at an even higher level of accomplishment than before.

The year is 1945. Allied aircraft fly overhead on their way to bomb a Germany in the last movement of its dark symphony of hate and war. On the ground, a farmer named Barnabas Kane, his Irish-American wife, Eskra, and their teenage son Billy suffer what Barnabas suspects may have been a terrible act of arson. Or doubly terrible, we might say, since the fire in the farm’s cow barn not only destroys all of his livestock, but also takes the life of a trusted farmhand who’d rushed in, at the urging of his boss, to try to save the animals.

This by itself would have made a compelling novel: A man and his wife — Barnabas and Eskra — struggling against adversity, the loss of their herd, and the mixed response of the nearby villagers. (Kane is, in the local parlance, a “local stranger” — which is to say, someone who emigrated to America to make his fortune, and then returned to his home county, where in these circumstances he is held at arms’ length by many of the inhabitants.)

As Lynch presents the story, it becomes an out of the ordinary creation, a novel in which sentence after sentence comes so beautifully alive in all the fullness of its diction and meaning that most other contemporary Irish fiction looks sheepish by comparison.

Lynch’s language is rough-hewn and yet beautifully lyrical, uncommonly conducted with as many vowels as consonants, and thus diverging from the raw piercing strength of traditional Celtic diction. I could scarcely read more than a few pages at a time without having to stop and contemplate quitting the writing of fiction myself, rather than compete with passages like Lynch’s description of doomed farmhand Matthew Peoples, who has a face like “a dream of sand … A face like a lived-in map. The high terrain of his cheekbones and the spread of red veins on the pads of his cheeks like great rivers were written on him.”

Or Barnabas’ farm after a big storm, “The sky distant and inert and its lungs blown out.” Or — more weather — the farmer studying the sky and seeing “a ridge of low cloud like dirt snow sided on a road. What it met shined from over the hills, an eternal blue that spoke the world could be perfect if it wanted to.” But there’s danger here, too. Fire can “forge its own weather” and the sound of “the fire’s hunger” as it devours Barnabas’ barn is “like some enormous force let loose upon the world — an epic thing that held within its violence the fierce, rolling energy of the sea.”

Through this landscape of hope and menace Barnabas Kane trundles, a good man hampered by stubbornness, pride and a gargantuan lack of empathy for his wife and son; at one point he risks everything in his life rather than suffer embarrassment. Sentence by sentence we read about how his world comes apart, even as Lynch’s language binds everything together — nature, character, time and the wild paradoxical aspiration of a novelist driven to try and make sense out of the inexplicable.

By |May 15th, 2015|Uncategorized|Comments Off

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:

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

Kevin Powers on The Black Snow


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