Told with lyrical prose, John Banville's Birchwood is the elegiac story of the aristocratic decline of an eccentric family riddled with dark secrets.
Once the big house on an Irish estate, Birchwood has turned into a baroque madhouse for its ruined inhabitants. One disaster succeeds another, until young Gabriel Godkin runs away to join a travelling circus and look for his long-lost twin sister. Soon he discovers that famine and unrest stalk the countryside, and Ireland is ruined too.
Birchwood represents a watershed in contemporary Irish writing: it is a novel in which history becomes a rich black comedy full of land agitation and Gothic characters; and a sense of bewilderment at the nature of the universe fills its pages.
John Banville is one of the great masters of the . . . English language.
Catherine Lockerbie, Scotsman