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A Goat's Song Paperback – March 15, 1998

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Healy addresses the antipathies of contemporary Ireland-the whole island, both Ulster and the Republic of Ireland-with dogged intensity and honesty. Effectively the story of the breakup of the relationship between Catholic playwright Jack Ferris and Protestant actress Catherine Adams, the novel opens in Donegal, in the west of Ireland, as Jack slowly realizes that a combination of cultural misunderstandings and his own alcoholism have driven his lover from him. Forced to come to terms with his loss, he determines to recreate Catherine in his imagination, and the novel delves into the past to examine the social and psychological landscape of the fractured world to which they both belong. Protestant and Catholic Ireland are drawn together in the complex person of Jonathan Adams, Catherine's father, a stern Northern Protestant policeman equally attracted to and repelled by the Catholic South. Towards the end of his life, Jonathan finds himself spending more time in his holiday home in a relatively unsophisticated Southern community; but, after years of summerlong visits there, he remains an outsider-unable even to master the rudiments of casual greeting and conversation. Jonathan's difficulties are mirrored by Jack's later attempts to maintain a normal life as a playwright in violence-torn Belfast, where he has moved with Catherine, and where he begins to understand that he, too, is fundamentally an outsider. This long, resolutely bleak story (the title derives from the Greek word for "tragedy") evokes both the bitterness and the wistfulness of people caught in the center of Ireland's religious divide. Although the prose is occasionally less than beautiful, Healy's complex characterizations and powerful narrative drive make this a consistently gripping and ultimately moving novel.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In this story of a doomed love affair, novelist-playwright-poet Healy humanizes the strife in modern Ireland, vividly illustrating the atmosphere of fear and the pain caused to persons on all sides of the conflict. There are strains in the relationship between actress Catherine Adams, a Protestant from the north, and playwright Jack Ferris, a Catholic from the south; the role he writes for her in his new play releases her from him, and the drinking they share eventually drives them apart. Jack's boozy grieving in the first section of the book is excessive and overlong. But persistent readers will reach the splendidly told story of Catherine's family, featuring her father, a failed preacher turned constable, who is tragically caught in Ireland's troubles. With its finely drawn and complex characters, this is a memorable portrayal of a country and its people by one of its notable writers. Michele Leber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: Harvest Book
  • Paperback: 420 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (March 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156005824
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156005821
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,421,401 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By "lexo-2x" on April 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
I put off reading A Goat's Song because of what it's about. The basic story is, to say the least, unpromising, at least to me. Alcoholic playwright Jack Ferris is desperate to get back together with his actress girlfriend. He lives in a small village in the west of Ireland (uh-oh, goes my Instant Irishness Alert). He waits for a message from her. At the beginning of the book, he's got it; she's coming home. Yay for him! He waits for her to turn up. And waits. And waits.
The novel flashes back to show the whole of Jack and his girlfriend's life together, and then flashes back further to Catherine's childhood in Northern Ireland, where her father was a policeman. Gradually, in a way that I can only describe as Tolstoyan, Healy manages to cover decades of Irish history as experienced from both the centre and the edge. Catherine's father, a Protestant RUC man, takes part in suppressing a civil rights demonstration and is then shocked to see himself on telly beating a man to the ground with his truncheon. The book wheels in its remorseless course (one of the best things about it is that while it has a strong air of being at least semi-autobiographical, there isn't a shred of special pleading or sentimentality about it) until we get back to the present.
Healy is brilliant at putting you in the same room as his characters and having you think their thoughts. The accounts of Jack and Catherine's wild drinking bouts are, ahem, painfully familiar. His prose is strong and lucid without ever indulging in irritating bits of semi-poetic landscape painting in the Proulx manner.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on August 19, 2000
Format: Paperback
"Every time you weep in a theatre you're listening to a goat singing."
This is the Author, Dermot Healy, explaining through the playwright/protagonist Jack Ferris, what Jack's trade is. As I have now read this second book by Mr. Healy, after completing "Sudden Times", it also is an apt description of the Author as well. You cannot categorize nor summarize what Mr. Healy creates and then relates to readers in a word, or two, or four. Just as with the fictional Jack Harris, an explanation is needed, and not just an ordinary statement, but also a demonstration of not only the wide knowledge, but also the true understanding the Author commands of his knowledge to exacting detail. The exchange that follows is Jack's half of a conversation with Catherine who wants to know what he does. After the lines below she still has no clue, and neither did I. However by the bottom of the page not only do we learn what he does, but its origins, a bit about Greek theatre, and even that goats cannot swim.
"I do a spot of writing."
"Plays, I'm interested in plays"
"I pen songs of the buck. Billy Tunes"
"Goat Song's"
Now if this Author's prose is compared to what we normally would read, "What do you do?" I write plays, tragedies", you begin to gain an appreciation of just how special this man's literary gifts are. The example I share is not the exception with his work rather it is the rule. These are not clever sounds bites surrounded by mediocrity, this man consistently writes with a level of expertise, which is remarkable. It has been mentioned that the first section is overly long, and at first it appears to be. However once you are into the balance of the book, extending to the very end, the first section underpins the entire tale.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Twohounds on May 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"Goat's song" is the literal translation of the word "tragedy." There is no better way to sum up this book than a beautiful, heart wrenching tragedy.
The book follows the life of playwright Jack Ferris as he loves, loses, remembers, and recounts the early life of Catherine, an aspiring actress. The tone of the book is so personal, it felt as if Healy were writing from experience. Healy writes beautifully, oftening slipping into a sort of stream of consciousness to bring the reader into the liquor induced insanity Jack so often experiences. He conveys the desperation of the characters and their emotional, almost physical, pain in such an immediate way, I felt truly depressed as I got deeper into the book. The story begins with the ending, jumps to the beginning, then progresses inexorably towards the heartache you know is to come. The book's ending is simply perfect.
An added bonus to the beautifully told story is the wonderful peek into Irish life. The book is set in Northern Ireland before and during the troubles, as well as in the Republic of Ireland, both in the city and in an ancient village. As an American, it was a delight to read the many voices of the Irish people. However, I ran into some difficulty with the politics. Healy uses RUC/Provo, Loyalist/Republican, Protestant/Catholic interchangably and without explanation, so if you have no frame of reference for the politics of Northern Ireland, it is easy to get lost in the terms. However, that may have been by design, as Healy tried to convey the subtleties and complexities of living in the midst of revolution.
I truly enjoyed the emotional ride of this book. While I quite often disliked the characters, I couldn't help but feel compassion for them.
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