Circles Around the Sun
In the summer of 1968, at the age of eighteen, Mike McCloskey seemed poised for a perfect future. The eldest of six children, he was an honour student, gifted, industrious, well-liked. He was a star athlete. He was in love. He was heading off to Duke University, where he would play basketball and study on an academic scholarship.
Within a few years, his world had begun to fall apart, and by the age of twenty-three, Mike had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Molly was only four years old when her brother left home for college. By the time she was old enough to begin to know him, Mike was effectively gone – frequently delusional, heavily medicated, living in hospitals or care homes or on the road.
As the years passed, years during which Molly – having moved from the US to Ireland – hardly ever saw or had contact with her brother, she became deeply curious about his life and about what might have been. Through reading an astonishing archive of letters preserved by her mother and grandmother, and interviewing family members and old friends of Mike’s, she began to piece together a picture of his life, before and after the illness struck.
In Circles Around the Sun, she tells that story – which is also the story of her own demons and of how a seemingly perfect family can slowly fall apart and, in the end, regroup.
‘If there is something to be learned from these pages, it is the redeeming power of something well described. Precision may, after all, be a kind of prayer. Molly McCloskey is a fine fiction writer, whose drift away from the United States has made her work hard to label: we are, perhaps, more attuned to the voices of migrants who travel the other way. She writes as someone displaced: open-minded, exact.’ – Anne Enright, the Guardian (read the review)
‘The knock-on effect that mental illness has on a family forms the candid subtext of this true-life story. Mike’s decline into psychotic isolation is gradual, poignantly tracked in a family album of snapshots. [McCloskey’s] prose is tender and sometimes dream-like, yet rigorously truthful.’ – Justine McCarthy, Sunday Times (UK)
‘...a brilliant, at times heartbreaking book ... an extraordinary accounting of singular sorrows and no uncertain triumphs.’ - Anthony Glavin, the Irish Times (read the review)
‘There is a rare, uplifting honesty about this heartbreaking story ... Yet the memoir is utterly without prurience or sentiment.’ – Mary Shine Thompson, Irish Independent
‘This is a sad book, but it’s not sensationalist or despairing. Her mother’s calmness, good humour, and strength is a beacon of light - for the family and for the book, and McCloskey’s style is subtle, thoughtful, and restrained ... She’s never presumptuous. Mike keeps his dignity and mystery while granting us some insight into his condition.’ – the Dubliner/Evening Herald
‘July’s Irish Book of the Month is an intense, wonderfully wrought family history which focuses on the effect of mental illness on Molly McCloskey’s family, particularly in relation to her brother’s schizophrenia, and is told with the help of a remarkable archive of family letters preserved by her mother and grandmother.’ – Belfast Telegraph, Books You Should Own
‘Circles Around the Sun is a strangely comforting, clear-sighted and decidedly non-pat read, probably because McCloskey is more interested in asking hard questions than she is in answering them.’ – Daragh Reddin, Metro Herald
Gillian has achieved success and a degree of fame as the founder of a self-help retreat for high-achievers who want to 'decelerate'. Her husband, Damien, is the public face of a new heritage village that attempts to re-create 1950s Ireland. Their teenage daughter, Heather, dyes her face blue and is addicted to the Dystopia Channel. She is the least of their problems.
When Gillian's beloved aunt Grace, who raised her following the sudden death of both her parents, succumbs to Alzheimer's, Gillian feels cut off from her past. In grief and confusion, she starts taking an experimental drug that is believed to sharpen memory - with unexpected results. Meanwhile, Damien's village becomes a magnet for media ridicule. As he tries to defend himself and his work, he wonders if his increasingly remote wife is on his side. He knows that Gillian had a brief affair a few years ago with a former workmate. He doesn't know that she has just re-established contact with him...
At once richly comic, socially observant, and deeply moving, Protection is a story of love, loss, memory and forgiveness among ordinary people in a place - contemporary Ireland - that is stranger than they know.
‘Nice sidesweeps at ridiculous aspects of modern life are but one aspect of this multi-layered, tragicomic tale of an Irish family in crisis. The theme of memory (and its loss) is another … Poignant, funny and observant, this confident debut novel is a cut above.’ – the Guardian
'Funny, intelligent, empathetic and disquieting all at once - a comic dissection of contemporary Ireland from one of our finest writers.' – Colum McCann
‘This sparky, confident debut novel takes the ball of 21st-century Irish prosperity, and runs with it into a future where everything is managed, reality is virtual and everyone is suffering from information overload... Themes of memory, love and loss are explored with engaging warmth and an impressive lightness of touch - but McCloskey, who was born in Philadelphia but has lived in Ireland since 1989, uses her insider-outsider status to aim a few hard-hitting satirical bulls'-eyes.’ – the Irish Times
The Beautiful Changes
The title novella and four short stories in Molly McCloskey's dazzling second book vary in setting, tone and characterization, but their subject, always, is love. McCloskey writes of misbegotten relationships, the mysterious communion of brothers and sisters, and the invincible love of a father and daughter, in a voice at once witty, warm and sharp. Her characters are lonely when together, and pulled by the unfathomable imperatives of the heart when alone.
From the dual quest narrative of The Beautiful Changes - a daughter's quest for a lost father, and the father's quest for sobriety - to the funny and moving tales of family life and sexual misadventure in the shorter stories, Molly McCloskey shows herself to be a storyteller of the first rank.
‘Molly McCloskey is an extravagantly gifted writer. This is ... a work of real substance. Throughout, McCloskey demonstrates a beautiful, confident, metaphorical prose, always attentive to the concrete, and yet capable of sustained interior illumination. She is a writer who deserves to be widely read: I hope, with this collection, she will be.' – Rachel Cusk, the Telegraph
'Molly McCloskey showed everyone why she's one of the most inventive writers around with The Beautiful Changes, a novella and stories that dare greatly.' – Colum McCann, the Irish Times, Books 2002 - What's In
'Molly McCloskey is an amazing writer, subtle, sharply observant, funny, adventurous, obsessive and above all serious ... Although there is a long tradition in American fiction of the hard-drinking male, seldom has the inner world of one such speciment been described with such sympathetic acuity ... While all four stories are excellent, 'Here, Now' stands out for its honesty and originality ... It is the most exciting story to come out of Ireland for a long time.' – Alannah Hopkin, Sunday Tribune
'McCloskey's gift for capturing the precarious nature of interpersonal relations and the exquisite pain of isolated consciousness is matched by her ability to construct startling and unpredictable plots that encompass many retrospectives and refuse orderly endings ... McCloskey has produced adept and startling fictions that skilfully probe the unwieldy profundities of the human psyche.' – Anne Fogarty, the Irish Times
'McCloskey's second collection of stories marks her as one of the rare species of short story writers whose work should be watched. With a thoughtful, careful prose, McCloskey weaves narratives that are distinctly textured: by place, by era, by events, and most of all by character.' –Nua: Studies in Contemporary Irish Writing
The sixteen stories in this stylish first collection return again and again to the most intimate and enigmatic of human relationships. In the title story, a woman reflects on the man she called her father, and on how the love they bore each other became a forbidden thing; in 'The Stranger', a wife is forced to see that the man she thought she knew best was the husband she didn't know at all. The disintegration of these loving relationships is evoked through a the dreamlike recall of memory - the creaking of a floor in the night rekindling the pain of a departed father, a child playing in the sand reminding a mother that love cannot last forever, the smell of roses tenderly entangling in a daughter's senses with the scent of illicit happiness. Carefully kept letters, forgotten photographs, all the debris of our secret lives is laid bare in the milky prose and fluid imagery of a new and very talented voice.
'Solomon's Seal is a brave collection of intimate stories that explore sexual grief and family life. The tone is both detached and romantic, and strangely adult, as if the writer were looking back after a long lifetime of letters. Panic attacks are contained in seamless prose. She even succeeds in making loneliness sound homely, and yet few writers have penned frustration with such accuracy. You cannot mistake her for anyone else.' - Dermot Healy, author of A Goat’s Song and The Bend for Home
'McCloskey distills sparely yet strikingly the sexual grief, the loneliness of familiar relationships. The overwhelming ambience of failure and loss, the setting of her stories at moments of emotional dislocation, is all reminiscent of the best writing of Ethan Canin or Richard Bausch ... Perhaps one of the greatest new writers whom I have read in recent years, hers is the sort of voice which you have to listen to ... talking slowly, quietly, and with the ring of understated truth.' – The Scotsman
'A taut melancholy wires its way through the stories of Solomon's Seal ... [They] build their memorable world cumulatively, piece by brittle, affecting piece.' – The Times, London
'It's a pleasure to welcome the advent of a poised, fluid and darkly memorable voice ... At her most powerful, Molly McCloskey is an author capable of capturing and compressing the most vivid imaginative worlds within these compact and haunting stories.' – Dermot Bolger
'The sixteen stories in Molly McCloskey's first collection settle happily into the very vital American short story tradition, although the author has been living and working in Ireland since 1989. Rather than telling an intricate tale, McCloskey plucks a period of time and bathes it with a fine authorial perception so that it becomes like an old and evocative snapshot ... Solomon's Seal is a deft and thoughtful first collection.' – the Irish Times