John the Revelator by Peter Murphy

John the Revelator by Peter Murphy

Murphy, Peter. John the Revelator. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009. ISBN 978-0151014026 272 pp. $


Beginning in the Dickensian style of “I am born,” John the Revelator traces a young man’s coming of age in southeastern Ireland. Young John’s mother, a maid, is in poor health and deeply religious, and John, perhaps because of her storytelling, is plagued by nightmares (a crow figures heavily in his dreams). He falls into a friendship with a boy named Jamey who is bright by unmotivated and introduces him to smoking, drinking, and women. Jamey is a writer, and the narrative is
frequently broken up by John reading Jamey’s stories.

The prose is fresh and the storytelling imbued with symbols and allusions. Murphy shines at grotesque but lovingly rendered details of things I didn’t want to read about while eating my lunch (like John’s fascination with worms); such details are woven throughout, but it felt like it took a while to get to the part where John IS a teenage boy, which is the meaty, interesting part of the book.

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