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John the Revelator Hardcover – August 19, 2009

3.6 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews

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Product Description
Already fast becoming a classic among coming-of-age tales, John the Revelator has garnered praise from Nick Laird, Colm Tóibín, Roddy Doyle, and John Boyne, and is a critical darling in the U.K.

This is the story of John Devine--stuck in a small town in the otherworldly landscape of southeastern Ireland, worried over by his single, chain-smoking, Bible-quoting mother, Lily, and spied on by the "neighborly" Mrs. Nagle. When Jamey Corboy, a self-styled Rimbaudian boy wonder, arrives in town, John's life suddenly seems full of possibility. His loneliness dissipates. He is taken up by mischief and discovery, hiding in the world beyond as Lily's mysterious illness worsens. But Jamey and John's nose for trouble may be their undoing, and soon John will be faced with a terrible moral dilemma.

Joining the ranks of the great novels of friendship and betrayal--A Separate Peace, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha--John the Revelator grapples with the pull of the world and the hold of those we love.

Read a Q&A: Shirley Manson, Singer and Actress, Interviews Peter Murphy, Author of John the Revelator

John the Revelator author Peter Murphy first met Shirley Manson--Garbage singer, solo artist incumbent, and actress in Fox's Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles--in the spring of 1998. Back then Manson and her band mates were promoting Garbage's second album Version 2.0. Murphy had just turned pro as a music and arts journalist. The five bonded in a mutual melding of spiky Edinburgh wit, sardonic Mid-western drollery and southeastern Irish gallows humor.

The pair's paths are overlapping. Manson cut her journalistic teeth interviewing U2 several months ago, while Murphy has just completed an album-length spoken word/music adaptation of his novel entitled The Sounds of John the Revelator . On a warm evening in late June the tables were turned, as grand inquisitor became quivering quarry. No blood was shed. Well, not much anyway.

Shirley Manson: So Peter, you've been a music journalist for 13 years, and you've just released your debut novel. I want to know why it took you so long when we've all known for years that if anyone were going to write a book it would be you. What spurred you to take the plunge?

Peter Murphy: The spur I think was the oldest one in the book. My father died in 2000, and in the period of about a year after that I started to wake up in the middle of the night afflicted with what I call the Claw of Death, which was a sort of cold icy feeling that I hadn't achieved anything, that I was going to die having only written about other people's work and never having produced any of my own. I had ideas, stories that didn't yet exist and I wanted them to exist. And the only way they would exist was if I wrote them. And it took a long time because... It just takes a long time. It took me a long time to get even a paragraph or a page that I could stand over and read without flinching, never mind a chapter or a whole book.

Shirley Manson: When I read the book I knew your Mum was ill and struggling with dementia throughout the writing of it. I wonder if the fact that John's mother became a central figure was a result of that?

Peter Murphy: Without doubt. Actually, I hadn't thought about it until you mentioned it, but the whole process was book-ended by my parents' deaths. And I didn't really get a handle on starting the next one until after my mother passed away in May. Y'know, this is the somewhat eerie thing about art and music and writing, its predictive nature. Before my mother fell sick or was diagnosed, I had written some of those scenes. I think what happens is your subconscious divines certain things that your daytime mind doesn't want to acknowledge, so it looks prophetic when you go back and see something that you've written is predicting something that later happened, but I don't think it's prophesy. I think it's that we absorb information or signs or auguries in ways that we don't even comprehend, and some part of us understands what's going to happen, but our conscious mind doesn't want to face up to it. And there's no doubt about it, the character of Lily was a catalyst. I believe it's her book. While the narrator is John, I think his purpose is to bear witness to his mother.

Shirley Manson: Why did you call it John The Revelator? I want to know that, even though it's a really moronic question.

Peter Murphy: Oh no, it's crucial. That song title, that aggregation of words was kind of like a talisman for me. What happened was I read Greil Marcus's book Invisible Republic, which was about The Basement Tapes and Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music. And when I read it I was of course compelled to hear the Harry Smith Anthology. I remember I bought it in Amherst in Massachusetts and I was sitting on the porch as the crickets were chirping, drinking a beer in the really close heat and looking at the track listing, and I remember my eye just locking on this title. It was the Blind Willie Johnson version, and I just thought it was unbelievable. It was Biblical, it could have been from Moby Dick, it could have been a Nick Cave song or a Cormac McCarthy novel, it could have been a John Ford movie. And I couldn't believe that nobody had ascribed a story to it. And once I decided this would be the title, it became a kind of dare. It was like, "Well, can you write something good enough to stand up to this?" It became like a torch to follow.

Shirley Manson: Do you think your book will resonate with an American audience?

Peter Murphy: Absolutely. Because American stories resonated with me and were so similar to my upbringing. When I was 12 or 13 I started the Stephen King canon and just didn't stop until they were all devoured. That was my first obsessive reading of any one author. And then it moved onto Steinbeck. And it was quite late in life that I made the connection: Faulkner, McCullers, O'Connor: what do these names have in common?

Shirley Manson: What do you think is the purpose of fictional writing? Why do you want to write?

Peter Murphy: At a certain stage in my life I realized that this is what makes me feel useful and whole as a person. I'd be delighted if the book made people feel better than they felt before they started it, or if it made a bus journey shorter, or if it got them through a morning in the motor tax office. Beyond that, I've just surrendered to the fact that this is what I do, I live in language, the music of language. I discovered something through the reading of the work... I don't think of it as separate from the person I am, I think of it as integral to my own organs and breathing and walking around. It's just hardwired into my purpose. When I'm working well I'm a dream to be around, and if I'm not working...

Shirley Manson: You have a myspace page up that centers around a spoken word/music project. Was that inspired by the book or did it come before the book?

Peter Murphy: There was an open mike night here in Enniscorthy last November, and there was a lull between singer-songwriters doing their thing, so I got up and read a couple of passages. And afterwards an old friend of mine who I used to play in a band with and who was doing the sound said, 'Do you fancy recording some of that?' So he came out to the house and set up the mikes and we recorded some stuff. And he had a library of recordings by local musicians, and he almost randomly began to throw the readings at these pieces of music, and 60% of the time they just sat really well. That was a really effortless and pure experience.

(Photo © Sophie Muller)

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In the hallowed pantheon of Irish coming-of-age novels, Murphy's strongly written debut splits the difference between the sensitivity of Portrait of an Artist and the freakishness of Butcher Boy. John Devine lives a marginal life with his single mother in the small Irish town of Kilcody. He has a love for the lore of creepy-crawly things (thanks to his favorite book, Harper's Compendium of Bizarre Nature Facts). His mother, a maid for the rich folks in the area, is versed in Irish myth, which gives him an enchanted, slightly sinister sense of the world. As a teenager, John befriends the posh James Corboy, who fancies himself quite the young Rimbaud. Two events define John's coming into manhood: one involves James, a video camera and a drunken rampage; the other, John's mother, who is dying and whose weakness necessitates the frequent assistance of nosy neighbor Mrs. Nagle. Murphy understands the gracelessness of teenage boys and that peculiar delinquent wisdom shared by all the great coming-of-age novelists. With this novel, he doesn't have to bow to any of them. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

"My name is John Devine"
Read the first chapter of Peter Murphy’s debut novel, John the Revelator [PDF].

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (August 19, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151014027
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151014026
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,135,002 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

PETER MURPHY, a writer and journalist, has written for Rolling Stone, the Sunday Business Post, and others. He has written liner notes for albums and anthologies, including for the remastered edition of the Anthology of American Folk Music, which features the Blind Willie Johnson recording of the song "John the Revelator."

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I've put off reviewing this book for a couple of weeks, because I'm having a hard time putting my finger on what it is that I loved so much about this book.

Then I decided maybe it's the same thing that so many of us loved about the Seinfeld TV series: even though it's not really about anything, we enjoyed the way we felt while we watched it.

Peter Murphy's writing really impressed me. Anyone who is literate can string a few words together and call himself a writer. Murphy's writing really dazzled me though. He has a gift for describing scenes and events without making you feel like you've just been assaulted with a thesaurus. I particularly liked the setting in the local church where he likened Christ's physique on the cross to that of a "supermodel". Blasphemous as that may be, I have to agree with him: I've always pictured our savior to be a tougher guy than that.

The other thing I loved was the tricky way he sneaked short stories into the book through various dream sequences. Short stories are truly an art form, but most of us really don't want to read them. Murphy concealed them in this book like veggies in my wife's cooking.

Other things I loved:

* The descriptions of the Irish locale.

* Unpredictable/random sequences of events that are almost forbidden in American A-then-B-then-C mass produced novels.

I hope Peter Murphy is rewarded for this book and I anxiously await more in the future.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
John Belushi once said, "Those Irishman love their mothers! Boy do they love their mothers!" This novel proves it, in a drawn-out, affecting way. The main character narrates his misspent youth, his attraction to a dissolute friend, his dalliances with drugs and the local hoods, but the towering central character of this novel is his mother, a promethean force who dominates him even as she withers away, leaving a howling vacuum in his life. There are descriptive passages of prose signifying that this is a serious novel, interspersed with the everyday debauchery and tedium of a young man's life in modern Enniscorthy, at least according to this former writer for Rolling Stone Magazine. There is no Father Murphy here, just a confused young nihilist without a cause.

I leave it for history to judge the relative ranking of this work in the literary firmament. I found it readable, as one would expect of a professional writer, but depressing and tedious at times. Even though I did not enjoy the novel, I recognize this Murphy's achievement, a work that rises above the common din of modern publishing, a new and fresh voice for your consideration.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Being of Irish ancestry I have a natural attraction for Irish literature. I am especially fond of contemporary Irish fiction and the masterful, haunting prose of Peter Murphy's JOHN THE REVELATOR is among the best I've read in a long time.

At first and much to my dismay, given its cover of a young boy and then the book's large print, I thought as I read the first chapter I had picked up a piece of juvenile fiction. Even though I wasn't really interested in reading a boy's story I found myself pulled in anyway. JOHN THE REVELATOR quickly became a stunning surprise. Yes, it is a coming of age story but it is one cleverly crafted to get the reader inside the head, the very character of John Divine. The reader literally comes of age along with John, experiencing everything that he does, seen and felt as he does from his perspective, from his lonely and isolated childhood through a mischievous and troubled adolescence to the tenuous brink of adulthood.

John Divine's story is full of imagery, dark humor, mystery. It reminded me somewhat of a gothic novel with much about its characters left unsaid and up to the imagination of the reader. The characterizations and their sub-plots are therefore all the more intriguing. John's chain-smoking single mother with her family secrets and lingering illness is an engaging presence who lends a sense of mystery to the story. Early in the story and without reason, she warns John as a friendless teenager to stay away from Jamey Corboy, a newcomer to their small Irish town and like John, a loner. Jamey quickly becomes John's only friend. Jamey is strange, a brainy "Rimbaudian" and prolific writer of true-to-life short stories who ultimately leads John boldly into the world beyond the limiting one he has known with his mother.
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Format: Hardcover
An "Irish gothic" novel with dark, religious overtones, JOHN THE REVELATOR is set in rural southeast Ireland, where the author himself grew up. The "revelator" of the title, "someone who reveals divine will," is a boy named John Devine, for the "beloved disciple," the only one of the apostles who escaped martyrdom, and the patron saint of writing. Born to an exceptionally religious single mother, a house cleaner, John's childhood seems relatively normal, despite his poverty, though he is pre-occupied with worms. He has nightmares in which he combines his daily life and his worries into horrific tales involving crows. By the age of fifteen, however, John is "content with his own company," and not terribly rebellious.

It is not until he meets Jamey Corboy, a sixteen-year-old, that he develops a real friendship. Jamey, far more adventurous, introduces John to heavy drinking, smoking, and a willingness to flout convention. Hanging out with bikers and toughs, Jamey has participated in a robbery, but he is also an intellectual and a fine creative writer who shares his full-length stories with John and the reader. Often scatological in tone, they reflect the spirit of Rimbaud, Jamie's favorite author, who produced his best-known work while still a teenager. Jamey plans to make a film called "Merde a Dieu."

At this point, halfway through the book, John resembles teenagers around the world, though perhaps a bit more introspective. The novel, until now, is well organized and exceptionally well written, with unique characters and a setting which allows the author to plumb the myths, folklore, and beliefs of rural Ireland. Every detail counts and relates to every other detail, and the author obviously has a big picture in mind for his themes.
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