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Songdogs: A Novel Paperback – October 15, 1996


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reissue edition (October 15, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312147414
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312147419
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #374,092 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Irish writer McCann's first novel is a powerful, sometimes mesmerizing commentary on the nature of family and identity, memory and loss. The story opens with 23-year-old narrator Conor Lyons, just returned to Ireland after a five-year trip abroad, spying on his father fly-fishing in a polluted river. The narrative goes on to detail the young man's week-long visit home, a sojourn that proves important primarily in how it relates to, and evokes, the past?beginning with a reconstruction of the father's life as a photographer and adventurer wandering first through war-wracked Spain and then through Mexico, where he meets and marries Conor's mother. The couple moves to the U.S. and on to Ireland, where the narrator is born. Conor's parents have a turbulent marriage, ending in the mother's mysterious disappearance when Conor is 12; it was to retrace his parents' travels, hoping to find his missing mother, that Conor left his homeland. Focusing on remembrance, McCann links events by mood as much as by date, employing prose of a poetic logic and musical cadence that binds transitions of character, time and place into a cogent melody and pattern. Toward novel's end, we begin to see that Conor's search for his mother in the territory of the past is as futile as his father's quest for a giant fish in a dead river. In a moving climax, the author illustrates that it is the quest for, rather than the attainment of, personal grails that defines and redeems us as individuals.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This first novel by a young Irish writer living in America is a sad, even grim tale of a boy's search for an explanation for the disintegration of his family. Conor Lyons goes to Ireland as a young adult and stays for a time with his father, who now lives in dreary, unkempt circumstances. He tries to discover why his Mam left the family when he was a boy. Part of the mystery seems to lie in the erotic images his father, a wandering photographer, had made of Mam when she was young. The awkward, painful understanding between father and son is the best part of the novel, which, despite almost unrelieved wretchedness, shows considerable promise. For larger collections.
Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., Va.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Colum McCann is the internationally bestselling author of the novels Zoli, Dancer, This Side of Brightness, and Songdogs, as well as two critically acclaimed story collections. His fiction has been published in thirty languages. He has been a finalist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and was the inaugural winner of the Ireland Fund of Monaco Literary Award in Memory of Princess Grace. He has been named one of Esquire's "Best and Brightest," and his short film Everything in This Country Must was nominated for an Oscar in 2005. A contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Paris Review, he teaches in the Hunter College MFA Creative Writing Program. He lives in New York City with his wife and their three children.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Dean Fenley on May 27, 1999
Format: Paperback
One of the best I've read in years. Hums with a dreamy atmosphere--glimpses of reality in a fog of rememberance. Writing is wonderful, story absorbing, characters real and more. A great companion to "So Long, See You Tommorrow," by Wm.Maxwell. Similar to "All the Pretty Horses," but better, I think. Few books make me want to push them onto friends--this one did.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By M. Phillips on October 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed this book. It is not your typical book with conflict and tension leading to a climax and then resolution. If you go in expecting that of Songdogs, you'll be sorely disappointed. Instead, go into this book looking for a journey and then sit back and enjoy the journey Songdogs takes you through. The characters and images are very well put together. The writing is so evocative at times, that I could smell the dust and feel the sun on my back as they built the wall. The writing is excellent. Colum has a wonderful gift for transporting you into the lives of his characters. This book will give you a nice introduction to Colum and his writing.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By HORAK on August 16, 2005
Format: Paperback
Mr McCann portrays a young man, Conor Lyons, visiting his ageing father Michael during six days in Mayo, Ireland. During these six days - they seem like the days of the Creation indeed - Conor retraces his father's epic life from his early childhood after the first World War when he was just a bundle of abandoned skin and rescued by two Protestant ladies who raised him. Later, when the ladies died, Michael sold their property and developed a strong passion for photography. He sold his prints to various newspapers. In 1939 he went to Madrid and subsequently to Mexico where he married Juanita. Obsessed with the beauty of her body, Michael took hundreds of pictures of her in various stages of nudity. These photos became a strong point of discord between them in later years and they're the probable cause for Juanita's vanishing 11 years before Conor's account. After that they moved to California, Wyoming and New York before finally returning back to Ireland.

It is the impressive tale of a son retracing his parents' long journey in order to try to find his mother again. It is also the story of a son witnessing the physical decay of his old father rotting in his own dirt and whose sole preoccupation in old age is fishing. A formidable novel by the best contemporary Irish novelist.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By John Kwok HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on November 16, 2005
Format: Paperback
In "Songdogs: A Novel", Colum McCann is stylistically closest to Cormac McCarthy's critically acclaimed novels set in the modern American West, but unlike McCarthy, he has crafted a tale that is not as rich emotionally. Without question, McCann's most redeeming trait herein is the fine quality of his lyrical prose. But still he tells a fascinating tale about photographer Michael Lyons, his wife Juanita, and their son Conor within the span of a short tome that's more a novella than a novel. I agree with at least one other Amazon.com reviewer who has noted that McCann has probably written better fiction - for me the most obvious example is his fictional tribute to dancer Rudolf Nureyev in "Dancer: A Novel", but "Songdogs" is a fine start to a promising literary career that is still unfolding.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Laurence R. Bachmann VINE VOICE on January 29, 2011
Format: Paperback
Having just finished Let The Great World Spin, which I loved, I was very much looking forward to Songdogs. I won't say I was disappointed, because it is definitely worthwhile. It does however, read like a first novel-- albeit from a writer with great gifts and promise.

Songdogs is rife with portentous symbolism. Mom is building a wall (actual and emotional). Dad (former self-absorbed artist) is now obsessed with fly fishing for his Great Pink Salmon (Irish Ahab) in (of course)an offal polluted river (carcasses of his relationships) that the son returning home has to swim through in a cathartic moment. And oh yeah, there is a ritual bath in the end--son cleansing dad. All of the cliches tend to pile up in a big heap toward the end and at times you want to shout "I get it! I get it!."

What saves Songdogs is McCann's beautiful prose and sharp insights into people who are damaged by life or their loved ones. Juanita's slow emotional dissolution is well-handled and Conor's yearning for answers and resolution rings true.

Occasionally the author seems as though he is showing off how many obscure variations of words he knows. Women are entropic in their chalcedony shifts, not just tired in a dingy white dress--but okay, got that out of your system?

It was also a pleasure to see how some of the themes the were predominate in LTGWS appear in this first work. One line in particular stands out: "The world rotates on an axis of what-ifs." It is this ability to accept life's impermanence and disappointment with a bit of grace that helps us to see beyond to something that might be described as evanescent joy. It is nicely introduced here, and will be picked up and honed in later works.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By James Carragher on January 5, 2004
Format: Paperback
McCann has probably already written better books. In this one, which reads throughout like thinly disguised autobiography, he retraces places of his parents' marriage. The story is told mostly in flashback as he visits his dying father in the ramshackle Irish hometown and broken down house where he grew up. Mom (Mam) has long since and wisely fled for parts unknown and based on the description of the old man here it's hard to tell what she saw in him. Intoxicated by his craft and his mastery of words, McCann rarely lets the story tell itself. Once he learns to rein in his tendency to pose on the page, I suspect he'll be fine. Check out his later work to find out, but you can miss Songdogs.
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