The Silence Room, By Sean O'Brien

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The Independent Culture

This strange, brilliant debut collection of short stories by the celebrated poet Sean O'Brien takes us back to a world of Gothic splendour and horror. It also takes us into the modern world, and gothicises it in turn.

The "Silence Room" itself is a forbidden yet enchanting place, rich in mythic resonance. The library to which it is an annexe is the leitmotif in these tales, set in Scotland and everywhere. The location is as wraithlike as the stories themselves.

The opening story tells of a poet who finds himself adrift in a Walpurgishnacht, a night full of people with no help to give but lots of gnomic messages to deliver. He is led to the bank of a river. Looking down at his reflection he sees the moon and then his father. His father had sent the messages. "By the light I saw quite clearly that this was a river with only one shore."

With every one of these tales of mystery and debauchery the reader shivers with delight. The prose, winging between stateliness and the coarsest urban patois, is fluent and flawless, the work of a poet.