What to read now: Billy O’Callaghan’s The Boatman and Other Stories


Allow this collection of short stories to sweep you away, with emotional journeys that test the limits of the human heart

From the Costa-shortlisted author of My Coney Island Baby, The Boatman and Other Stories is a series of gut-wrenching stories about moments that challenge the spirit.


“In these twelve quietly dazzling, carefully crafted stories, Billy O’Callaghan explores the resilience of the human heart and its ability to keep beating even in the wake of grief, trauma and lost love.

Spanning a century and two continents – from the muddy fields of Ireland to a hotel room in Paris, a dingy bar in Segovia to an aeroplane bound for Taipei – The Boatman follows an unforgettable cast of characters. Three gunshots on the Irish border define the course of a young man’s life; a writer clings fast to a star-crossed affair with a woman who has never been fully in his reach; a fisherman accustomed to hard labour rolls up his sleeves to dig a grave for his child; a pair of newly-weds embark on their first adventure, living wild on the deserted Beginish Island.

Ranging from the elegiac to the brutally confrontational, these densely layered tales reveal the quiet heroism and gentle dignity of ordinary life. O’Callaghan is a master celebrant of the smallness of the human flame against the dark: its strength, and its steady brightness.”


O’Callaghan deftly demonstrates the all-consuming nature of grief, heartache, love and fear. Each poignant story in this collection grips you, as characters mull over their own personal catastrophes, past and present.

There is an impending sense of doom throughout — the young man making his first crossing of the Border, watchful for nearby soldiers; the passionate young couple deciding to live on an uninhabited island, completely cut off from the world; and the mischievous young brother, charming his family, even from his deathbed. O’Callaghan’s first novel, 2017’s The Dead House, was a chilling horror set in West Cork, and in these stories too, when gory accidents and tragedies strike, the characters, powerless, are left shattered.

And where there is heartbreak, there must also first be love. Those who have read the critically-acclaimed My Coney Island Baby will know that O’Callaghan is adept in writing achingly romantic, passionate love. It’s almost too much to take in parts, to read the innermost thoughts of the helplessly in love, and feels invasive to know of their intimate longing. What better way to devastate the reader than to show just how happy people can be?

The Boatman and Other Stories, published by Jonathan Cape, is available now.

Praise for Billy O’Callaghan

John Banville: “Billy O’Callaghan’s work is at once subtle and direct, warm and clear-eyed, and never less than beautifully written. He has a moving ability to express the hopes and fears of “ordinary” people, and he knows intimately the ways of the world. He richly deserves an international reputation. This writer is the real thing.”

Edna O’Brien: “A welcome voice to the pantheon of new Irish writing.”

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It's finally here – publication day for my new collection (and my first since 2013), 'The Boatman and Other Stories'! Written over a five year period, a few of these stories originally appeared in places like Ploughshares, the Kenyon Review, Agni and the Saturday Evening Post, while others are seeing the light of day for the very first time. I am excited about this one because I really feel that it's some of my best work. Thanks to Jonathan Cape for loving the stories as much as I do and for giving the book a chance in the world. 'The Boatman and Other Stories' is available now in all good bookshops (and online), though it won't be released in the U.S. until April, published by Harper Perennial. (Photo offers a glimpse of the next book – a new novel, 'Life Sentences', which will be published by Jonathan Cape in January 2021) as it goes through the final edits stage. The work never ends!)

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