A tense, thrilling debut novel that spans two continents, from "a writer to watch out for" (Colum McCann).
It's 1832 and Coll Coyle has killed the wrong man. The dead man's father is an expert tracker and ruthless killer with a single-minded focus on vengeance. The hunt leads from the windswept bogs of County Donegal, across the Atlantic to the choleric work camps of the Pennsylvania railroad, where both men will find their fates in the hardship and rough country of the fledgling United States.
Language and landscape combine powerfully in this tense exploration of life and death, parts of which are based on historical events. With lyrical prose balancing the stark realities of the hunter and the hunted, Red Sky in Morning is a visceral and meditative novel that marks the debut of a stunning new talent.
|Publisher:||Little, Brown and Company|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
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Red Sky in Morning
By Paul Lynch
Little, Brown and CompanyCopyright © 2013 Paul Lynch
All rights reserved.
Night sky was black and then there was blood, morning crack of light on the edge of the earth. The crimson spill sent the bright stars to fade, hills stepping out of shadow and clouds finding flesh. First rain of day from a soundless sky and music it made of the land. The trees let slip the mantle of darkness, stretched themselves, fingers of leaves shivering in the breeze, red then goldening rays of light catching. The rain stopped and he heard the birds wake. They blinked and shook their heads and scattered song upon the sky. The land, old and tremulous, turned slowly towards the rising sun.
Coll Coyle was tight with rage and could not admit he was afraid. For hours he watched with dread the creeping birth of morning. Wobbled glass bending the Carnarvan dawn in rivulets of shifting purple, the slow retreat of numb shadow from the walls. He could not speak for a great bank of sorrow.
He lay awake most of the night, dreams snaking shallow and tormented so that for a moment he would find relief in waking, but soon the dread would pool about him in the darkness and a weight spreading heavy would pitch on top of him. He turned among the limb-sprawl of heated bodies, his daughter snug in his elbow and the press of his wife's chest. He reached a hand to her swollen belly and listened to the suck tide of her breathing. The surf at Clochan Strand.
He rose so as not to stir them, slithered and then scooped his daughter with feathered fingers and placed her by her mother's arms. The child awoke anyway, blinked at him with eyes confused and crusted, and he cooed her and rubbed his thumb on her cheek and the lids of her eyes weighted and shut. He looked to the darkness that held silent the shape of his mother sleeping. The hearth glowing red with sleepy eyes and he reached for his breeches and put them on and took his wyliecoat off the chair, sleeved it and buttoned it and set towards the door leaving his boots by the bed. The door sounding a gentle keening and he put it back on the latch and stood outside. The smell of Carnarvan like soaking earth. Salt faintly on the air and he sucked it in, looked towards the light that flaked silver on the dark waters of Trawbega Bay.
He stamped his feet and walked about the yard and opened the door to the stone outhouse, letting out the pig with a kick. Go on ye. The cow staring at him thickly. He yawned and rubbed his eyes and sat on the stone wall and ran his fingers over the rocks that sat jagged as if they had fought violently before being ripped out of the earth. The lime white of the house indigo in the light and he saw himself as a child among gragging geese and his father plastering dripping upon the blue clay.
Bones in the land. The bones of those before me. I will not so I will.
He looked at the house and remembered when they came—men from all over, from Carrow, from Evish, two men from Tanderagee who came all the way as a favor to his father. Towering, so they were, faces coppered and sun-cracked. The old man sparking his hands like shards of flint. Hardly ever smiled so he did though his body done all the laughing. They set to work, building with stones gleaming from the earth washed fresh. They stood the house, then cut sod and upturned it making flesh for the roof's bones. The men drank and cursed and sang songs till their slurring was feverish and they stumbled home to their townlands by dawn light and the family lay down on straw in front of the open fire too eager to sleep.
He sat and listened to the morning. The murmuring wind and the sound from the stone wall of a fierce droning fury. He stood and walked over to the sound of it and bent till he could see a hollow woven with web, dew-spittled and argent- shining, and his eyes alighted on a fly fighting the entangled clasp of a spider. The buzzing of its wings frantic and it became more furious still and its body twitched in trapped frenzy as the spider grappled from above until the life of the fly was spent but for its palps softly twitching and then it was still. Coyle bent closer and leaned into it and nudged gently the insect with the tip of his finger but the life was gone out of it.
He walked about the yard and saw the sky sheeted gray and stood thinking of the two riders that came. An idle saunter towards the top of the hill and then they had stopped near the end of the track. The loud call of John Faller. He walked towards them and took off his cap when he saw the other rider was Hamilton. Faller's smiling eyes. The height of him bearing down on that horse. His words plunging like a knife. Hamilton leering red-eyed. Like that was anything new.
Shoulda said something then. Shoulda looked him in the eye. Shoulda dragged him down off that horse. What are ye on about? What do you mean we are being evicted? You know we done you no harm. And the woman with child. Pure wrong so it is. Wouldna have listened anyway.
His fists tensed and something roiled in him like the white fever of river until his anger was foaming and he walked to the yard and pulled an axe grinning from the wood and started walking. He marched down the track from the house, shoulders huge and hunching. The earth dew-kissed and the coldness of it was numb to his feet and he wanted to hurl a mountain, to tear at the sky, to rip the earth open with his hands, and he turned sharp and strode to a spot where trees stood huddling. The axe swung in vicious arcs till a fir splintered and fell newly ragged upon the needled floor and he sat spent, his head wagging, and he had no power to hold back the tears.
He wiped his face with his sleeve and walked back up the hill to the house. The shape of his mother crossing the yard and the cow giving up her milk. He went inside and sat on a stool between the fire and the bed and looked at his wife Sarah. Eyes sloping off low cheekbones. A face built for sadness.
You were keeping me awake all night with your turning, she said.
Ye were sleeping.
I was awake. Where'd you get to just now?
I was out cuttin.
What was the use of that?
He rose towards the hearth. The fire alive in the rakings and he blew gently. Ash skittered the surface of fizzing embers and he raked it and kindled it with moss which popped and sizzled till flame lapped hungrily. He took flitches of turf and put them on top and watched the smoke sidle up the gable wall to lie sleepily about the low rafters and then he put his hand over the flame.
The child awoke and climbed out of the bed and went to him. He scooped her into his lap and tidied tangles of hair with his fingers. The child fidgeted and he put her down again and leaned forward on his elbows with his hands worrying his cheeks. Sarah watched him. His face a forest of dark stubble and the way shadows pooled his eyes like he was quailing from the light. He saw her and shook his head.
The door opened and his mother placed a pail beside the table and she fixed her shawl and went out again.
They ate brachán in wooden bowls to the spit of the fire, silence filling up the room. They each watched him in turn, his eyes upon the floor, and then he lifted his head and spoke quietly. I'm sick of yous looking at me like I'm supposed to do something. Fuck it then I will.
Sarah put down her bowl on the table. Coyle stood up. Is Jim's suit down at the house?
His mother looked at him. Naw. It's up here. Why do you want it?
I'm gonna go and speak a few words. Ask Hamilton to let us be.
Sarah looked up. No you are not, she said.
Alarm now in her voice, ceding control to his voice low and steady.
Aye I am. I'm gonna go and talk sense to that man.
Sarah got up and stood in front of him. You will not. You know he's not the kind for it. There's no sense in him. You'll only make things worse off.
He looked at her unblinking. Huppidy hah, he said.
She placed her hand on his arm and looked into his eyes. He stared at her, his hands balling white-knuckled, and then he turned and yanked open the door and stood there for air. They watched him, the child climbing crying upon her mother's lap, and they listened to his low cursing.
He came back in and stood with his hands on his hips staring at his wife and she refused to look at him. The old woman came from the other room with the suit on her arm and handed it to him and Sarah snapped up from the table with the child. Fool, she said.
His mother's mouth curled and her eyes narrowed like a cat. That young Hamilton, she said. A curse on the bodach's head.
He set out on foot under sky sullen and uncertain. A back-sheared anvil rolled from the west and the faraway haze of rain upon the hills. He wore the suit tattered about the cuff and he wore his boots though he preferred to walk on bare feet and underneath his castor hat he was auditioning ideas of talk man to man that would settle things. Listen here now. Naw. I'm just saying.
He took Toland's pass where the world thickened in green and he came to a river spanning the length of him. He forded across a spine of stones and pushed up the hill in big strides through rushes parting and he found the track, walking with the power of a man of single determination, and when the sky opened up he did not stop, the track weak to the rain and his boots soiling in the softening beneath him.
The sky had more to give. The rain fell heavier and he stopped under a tree and hunched on his heels. His hat plastered to his head and rain dripping on his face. The suit was stained dark and cold to the skin. He listened to the tinkling canopy and a magpie's rolling rattle and he caught sight of the bird above, watched it flit the tree with its turquoise belt shining. Beside him the faceless yellow discs of hawksbeard were courted by a bumblebee as fat as his thumb.
The rain softened to a drizzle and he rolled his sleeves and set off again. He met the whitewashed boundary wall of the Moss Road estate where the light was thin and scattered through the trees. Beyond he saw the sprawl of the country house. The land opened to vastness and he walked towards it, the grass a glistening green and garden beds of bloom. Stables lined before him alongside outhouses and the broad back of the house looking down superior upon the yard.
Coyle pulled his cap lower over his eyes and went towards the stables, silence save for the snorting of a horse, and then he saw his brother in a field with a gelding. The man's long face narrowed when he saw him. He clamped his jaw and looked over his shoulder and began towards Coyle with an angry whisper.
What the fuck are ye doing?
Coyle did not meet the man's whisper but spoke instead in his low steady tone. I'm sorting this out like I should have.
Coyle looked at his brother's shaking head, the expanse of jaw set before him like an obstacle. A flash in the man's eyes and the way his mouth tightened and Coyle saw in him his father's face.
Is that young bastard about? he said.
I saddled him up. He's out with the dog—hold on now you, he said.
Jim put his hands into the air as if that would stop him.
Hold on nowhere. I'll talk to the auld fella so.
You will not.
I've made up my mind. It's pure wrong.
You're right. Evicting yous is pure wrong. But if Faller sees ye lumping about—there's fuck all you can do.
I've been taking this lying down ever since that day I was too afraid to speak.
Faller and his boys will be over to yous later. Ye know how it is.
Coyle smiled. Huppidy hah.
He left his brother standing mute in the field and climbed a fence that wobbled uncertain under his weight and he came upon the gravel of the driveway. Stones in their wetness gleaming and their crunch underfoot and then the front door rising before him in red. He pulled the bell and took off his cap and pulled a leaf of climbing ivy off the wall, rolled it until it stained his thumb. The door swung heavily. A domestic servant stood before him, her hair skulled tight and her blue eyes striking him with a look like she could read him pure.
Please, I need to speak with the master.
Nothing from her but the full length of a look.
Tell him it's Coll Coyle, son of Seamus Coyle.
Mounted heads of deer with marbled eyes watched behind the woman. He stared at her and thought he saw movement in her eyes but then she spoke, I canny help you, and she leaned her body upon the door and closed it. Coyle waited a moment and he rang the bell again but the door remained shut. He banged on a panel with his fist and he ripped a string of ivy. He turned and walked around the house, met the watchful eyes of a maid by the scullery door and he found his brother at the stables.
Where did that bastard go this morning?
I told ye to go home.
Tell me where he is.
The brother sighed then pointed. Gortagore. He usually circles back by Wee Joe's path.
Jim watched the broad shape of his brother's back as he left the field and he scratched his jaw and turned back to the horse.
Hamilton ambled his horse on a hay track winding narrow while his dog bounded ahead. He looked towards the sky and the sun coffined in cloud and saw it tense with rain and he called to his dog but there was no sight nor sound of it. He followed the blackthorn-bundled path to the bend and beyond where he saw the hound and the shape of a man kneeling.
Coyle turned when he saw the man on the horse and he stood in the centre of the path. He took off his cap and raised his hand and when the horseman did not stop he walked alongside and took hold of the mare by the ring of the bridle and brought the horse to park.
Master, he said.
The rider heeled the mare to advance but Coyle held the animal firm. Hamilton looked down and glared. Blackshine of boot and corduroy breeches buttoned in gilt and the tails spun out behind him but his eyes were shot unsteady with red. Hamilton took hold of his composure and looked down at his boots and swatted at dirt with the back of his gloved hand. Coyle looked up at him, caught the reach of last night's drink from the man's breath.
Sir this isn't right what you're doing.
The hound giddied about the horse's front legs.
You listening sir?
Light rain began to encircle the men and Hamilton shifted in his saddle. His eyes sought out the sky and they sought out the dog and they sought out the track beyond where the man was standing. He leaned back and drove his heels into the horse but Coyle held it as it was, whispering to the animal soft words for confusion he saw quicken its eyes and then the animal was still.
Let go of my horse, Hamilton said. I'll not ask you again.
Not till you talk to me sir.
Hamilton looked at him and his hand sought in his pocket for a watch and he looked at the time and put it back and then the gleam of a smile.
If you fancy your brother working for me again you'd best leave off.
Coyle swallowed and looked at the hound which had taken seat to watch and then the sky fully opened. Each of them stood as if they were indifferent to the rain and though that may have been, Hamilton finally snapped. He swung a leg over the horse and dismounted with force and with the reins in his hand he made to go past. Coyle swung away in the other direction taking a second hold of the bridle, the horse nervous and the two standing opposite.
I'm asking you to just listen to me, Coyle said. My father worked for your father all his life—died working so he did. We've done nothing but good for your family. My brother too.
Your father died of his own stupidity. And your brother? Well, he's finished here.
I said he's finished. The lot of ye.
Coyle stared into the man's red eyes and the words came up hot and furious out of him. Damn your soul, he said, and he spat at the man's feet.
Hamilton looked at him wide-eyed and then a sneer on his lips.
Damn my soul? You've just damned yours. Your bones I'm going to break and your neck I'll have snapped on a rope. And I'll take your wife and cut the child out of her and fill her with my own seed and I'll take that other snotty scrag you call a child and bag it from a bridge and you can all go to hell.
Coyle's head clouded and his world interior closed to darkness and his hand bouldered. He fell to the man in front of him, his fist catching the other's jaw with the weight of his body behind it. The horse bucked on two legs and the man went staggering back till he fell upon the rocks of a wall. There was a pop softly as his head broke on the stone and the bone caved in, blood gorging out of him and his eyes rolling back as if trying to alight his vision on this breach flooding daylight into his world turned to darkness. There came a wheezing rattle from his throat and blood threaded out of his nose in little streams and it made confluent with a spume of spittle about his mouth. Coyle's legs went limp at the sight and he staggered drunkenly. The dog whining and he looked at the head holed before him like rotten fruit, the head lolling sideways onto the shoulder and he went to the man on his knees scratching the dirt with his hands outstretched and caught the other man's brain matter, viscous spilling from breached bone, and he tried to push it back in with his hands whimpering softly to himself oh Jesus.
Excerpted from Red Sky in Morning by Paul Lynch. Copyright © 2013 Paul Lynch. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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A Conversation with Paul Lynch, Author of Red Sky in Morning
Red Sky in Morning is set in 1832. Why go back to the 19th century and can the past tell us anything about the present?
We don't choose the books we write. They have a way of creeping up on us, whispering in our ear write me, write me, you know you want to until eventually you give in. I always thought I would write something contemporary set in a bustling city. Instead, I wrote something contemporary set in the 19th century. What came to me were two ideas. One was the real-life mass-murder of 57 Irish men in Pennsylvania in 1832 and its subsequent cover-up an event known as Duffy's Cut. The second was a fictional murder of a corrupt landowner by a desperate smallholder called Coll Coyle in Donegal of that same year. Both of them seemed to me reflect in different ways the contemporary moment the general powerless that is felt in so many lives. I threaded a line through both and the book came to be.
Would you say this is a very Irish novel?
I am very interested in developing in my writing a new approach to "Irishness". For many people of my generation, the clichés of the past don't make sense to us anymore. I wanted to take some of these old romantic myths that tell of landlessness and emigration and oppression and reexamine them to strip them of their clichés. I work very hard at making my sentences immediate. I want to transport the reader intensely into the present moment of the book. My hope is that the reader will experience history as if they were living it. Once this happens, old ideas about history become absurd and meaningless and we can create a new meaning from what we relive for ourselves. I wanted to write a novel that spoke not of nationalism and the grievances of being Irish that have been packaged for us by historians, but of life's universal problems. In every age, we are beset by the same troubles. I suppose you could say I take an evolutionary view. To many readers, my writing sings with its Irishness, and yet most of my literary influences are international.
The book has been described as both very beautiful and very violent. Would you care to discuss?
I can't imagine the book being any more violent than most crime novels one would read. I think of it more as philosphically violent. For me, Red Sky in Morning is my attempt at examining the world in as broad a view as possible, stripping away the illusions we hold onto without losing sight of the passion that fuels our beating hearts. Beautiful language is a way of seducing the reader and cushioning the blow of reality. Beauty, as they say, salves the eternal wound. A swooning sentence can work like Medusa's mirror, allowing us to view the ugly side of life without being turned to stone.
Most of the characters in the book are male, but yet, the character of Sarah is a powerful presence in the book. What does she represent?
Sarah for me is a key character. Her testimony is what gives the book much of its power. In many ways the book is a paen to loss and she becomes the voice of it. Sarah is the woman left behind to fend for her children. She is left with emptiness and no answers, is left staring into the abyss. How does one make sense of such things in life? She talks of her search for meaning to explain what happened and why. In the end she tries to accept that no meaning can be found. There is also a wider theme of loss. For me, the landscape and the weather provide a backdrop of deep time upon which our travels upon this earth seem but only a fleeting moment. The world continues on in wind and in rain after the characters have passed.
Who have you discovered lately?
There are two writers whom I believe will come to be seen, by future generations, as major writers of this age. They are WG Sebald and Roberto Bolaño. Sebald's Austerliz genuinely expands the boundaries of what the novel can be. But what he does best is give voice to the past and to the inexpressible multiplicity of voices that have been lost to time's abyss. Those winding, melancholy sentences painfully articulate the beauty of all those lives lost to time, war and Holocaust. That feeling of the abyss dominates Bolaño's torrential and most important work too. In 2666, it is the book's vertiginous grand theme. Bolaño loves to celebrate the cult of the writer because he believes it is the writer through great art who best distracts us from the void. And yet, great art can only draw us back to it because it is the greatest of all themes. Great art makes us stare into the abyss, makes us dizzy at the thought of it, spinning us in eternal circles from despair to glee. Perhaps no other modern writer does this better than Bolaño.