The Stray Sod Country, By Patrick McCabe

Strange goings on when a spirit comes to town

Patrick McCabe's deliciously unsettling novel is narrated by a sort of devilish will-o'-the-wisp, whose machinations cause havoc in the sleepy Irish town of Cullymore.

Insinuating himself into the minds of his victims, this malevolent spirit induces weird visions: a priest is haunted by the ghost of his dead mother; a barber is disturbed by a skein of pubic hair moving across his bedroom wall.

The book has the flavour of a dark folk-tale, and McCabe adeptly evokes the irruption of the strange and the spectral in the midst of the everyday. But there are fine comic moments, too, as when a sloshed local interjects during a conversation about poetry in the pub: "William Blake ... does he drink down in Billy McNeill's?"

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