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A Goat's Song

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  310 ratings  ·  44 reviews
An Irish playwright reimagines his estranged lover’s past in this “rare and powerful book”(E. Annie Proulx) whose “melancholy beauty resonates with the deepest truths” (Boston Globe).
Paperback, 420 pages
Published March 15th 1998 by Mariner Books (first published April 10th 1995)
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Saul The only thing that really anchors the novel in a time period is the fact that the main female character's father is a policeman involved in a riot in…moreThe only thing that really anchors the novel in a time period is the fact that the main female character's father is a policeman involved in a riot in 1969 in which his behavior is exposed and he is forced to make life changes such as moving to the Republic full-time (to where he formerly had a summer home). He dies a few years later. Then the daughter, Catherine, starts the relationship with Jack, the main character, that takes them back and forth between Belmullet and Belfast. Presumably, they are together (on and off) throughout the late '70's/early '80's (one clue is a book of poems from that time on a night table). The early part of the novel is some time after the part in the latter part, when Catherine has totally rejected Jack and he pines on for her. It could still be the '80's or it might be as late as when the novel was written in the mid-'90s.(less)

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Belinda Carvalho
'A Goat's Song' is what I would class a perfect contemporary Irish novel and a perfect modern love story (by love I mean star-crossed love). The real skill in the story is the format, which flits forwards and backwards in time, between different characters and their perspectives but this is effortless. Healy does this with real skill. It's rarely confusing, always extremely literary but original and not laboured. The story flows beautifully from Jack Ferris (complex, alcoholic writer, fisherman, ...more
Ade Bailey
Dec 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
This reviewer has been out at sea three days. I've been hurled and whirled, up and down and backwards all at the same time, been beaten up and chased by goats, and had three barrels of rum, gin, brandy, vodka, Jack Daniels, whisky, whiskey, potcheen and every other spirit of Irish moonshine poured down my throat. What a way to spend Christmas. If I recover I will say something about this brilliant novel. ...more
Seán Treacy
Nov 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Healy --- what a gifted writer.

A Goat's Song is free of those novelistic tricks and turns that make fiction laborious, free from that awful sense of writerly contrivance that pollutes so many novels. It's so full of irrepressible human truth and life.

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.
An intensely personal, rambling, poetic book telling the story of an alcoholic writer in rural Ireland
Oct 09, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: mixed-bag
I gave it a 3 as parts of this book were excellent, lyrical writing.

BUT and it's a big one. The story meandered. And meandered through lashings of drink and drunken fights. I didn't know what was real and what was imagined. And perhaps I wasn't meant to but it added to the confusion.

The good parts were very good. The description of the Northern/Southern Ireland conflicts, the differences in even the life of the towns. He catches all that and well.

The most interesting character in the book was Ca
Oct 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
One of my favorite books of all time. Pure poetic fiction about a drunk who has lost the love of his life. The sadness is so tangibly beautiful - the imagery will sweep you away. Simply put, Healy is a master with words and A Goat Song delivers in so many ways.

Its just one of those books I can never forget and think about often, for no particular reason, except for how well it is written. When a book is this well written it doesn't matter what it's about.

I'll be reading everything by Dermot Hea
Emily H
Nov 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of the most beautiful books I've read. ...more
May 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Simply, this is one of the most artfully, heartfully, and masterfully written novels I've ever read. Healy might be the most criminally unsung writer of the 20th century. His prose is lively and crafted, and at the same time genuine and natural. The story is messy and at the same time seamless, and the characters are fully formed. This novel is deeply human, but so Irish that it could not likely take place anywhere else. This novel explains so much about the dynamics between Catholic and protest ...more
A. Mary
Feb 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: irish-novels
Healy writes of drink, of art, of sectarianism, and he does it without relating causes, without explanations or apologies. Instead, he writes about them as functioning realities, not telling why there is a Protestant/Catholic divide in Northern Ireland, but rather showing it in daily life. There are families, neighbourhoods, lovers, in this almost epic story set in village and city, North and South. A Goat's Song is an Irish tragedy. ...more
Nov 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I have the Harvill hardcover edition with a blurb written in the inside of the dust jacket by Patrick McCabe: A fiercely passionate, gut-wrenching book. Its description of the west of Ireland is like no other book I've ever read. This is a book that will stay with you long after you've put it down. ...more
Marc Faoite
Apr 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An astonishing, gut-wrenching, heartbreaking masterpiece.
Jul 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Jojo
Recommended to Domhnall by: Guardian Review
Shelves: fiction
Jack Ferris is an Irish Catholic, writer of plays, occasional crew-man on a trawler off the West Coast, deeply self-obsessed and quite a serious alcoholic. Catherine Adams is the daughter of a sergeant in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, who had been a Loyalist and a fierce Presbyterian. She is an actress starting out in her career which might be thought to supply a basis for a relationship and indeed, we know from the start of this book that she is acting a part written by Jack with her in mind. ...more
Adrian Fingleton
Mar 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was one I had meant to read for some time and when I heard it being name-checked recently by Kevin Barry on a ‘Top 5’ books podcast, that tipped the odds in its favour.

Very briefly it’s about a tortured love affair, set mostly in the Mullet peninsula of Mayo but with excursions also to Belfast and the heartland of Ulster Unionism. The characters also seem to lead lives that encompass abnormal (ie, way too much) levels of alcohol. In fact it’s pretty clear that the main character is a f
Carly Svamvour
Jun 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Nov 23rd, 2k14 - beginning a re-read

(just 'cause we don't like the current book discussion read for HP Library group in December - Tenth of December ... that's the title)

I remember this as being really good. Worth a re-read.

Jan 19th, 2k15 - better the second time around. I'd like to get some more books by this author.


Jeff and I are reading this together. It's going slow, this read - we've been distracted by other reads - and, of course 'life' itself. Been busy this spring.

Jul 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
"A Goat's Song" is a weird book in that it can be clearly divided in 3 distinct stories which are only somehow related, but are very different one from the other. Furthermore, they are not presented in chronological order, it almost seems as if the original piece went through some cutting and re-arranging in the editor's room. (In fact I read in an interview of Healy that some editing did happen, since it was a lengthier work originally.) I even have the suspicion this happened so the least inte ...more
Dec 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A very refreshing voice. Voice of an alcoholic, whose confession can hardly be grasped by anyone who has not gone through the experience themselves. Voice of a person who makes efforts to occupy the middle ground between two religious traditions in Ireland, but reapeatedly fails. Voice of a writer who mistrusts words. Voice of a man who is not afraid to live in a woman's body.
My eyes actually filled with tears as I was reading the third page of this book, so I was not sure what will happen by th
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Masterfully probes the way people went about life in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland during a certain period in the late twentieth century. The RUC, the IRA, Catholic attitudes, Protestant attitudes, the lives of theatre people, and the ways of a fishing village all come into play. The only thing that really anchors the novel in a time period is the fact that the main female character's father is a RUC policeman involved in a Battle-of-the-Bogside-esque riot in 1969 in which his beh ...more
Mar 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a remarkable novel, elliptical in its narrative structure and packed with passages of stark realism combined with imaginative flights worthy of a symbolist poet. The story centers on the doomed love affair between Jack Ferris and Catherine Adams, he an alcoholic playwright and some time fisherman from Mayo, and she an actress, fellow drunk, and something of a refugee from the Northern Ireland Troubles. The magic portal and turning point of the novel comes early, in Chapter 8, which ends ...more
Sep 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
it’s definitely framed in such a way that makes it not for the faint of heart. id say as long as you can stick it out to part 2, you’re probably going to like this book. it says on the back that it covers the whole of ireland, and i’m not going to presume that i’m an authority on whether or not that’s true, but it’s the first book i’ve read since i got here that comes close. so many books i’ve read since i got here have been inaccessible, but this one is so much less so than all the others.

Sep 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
While I can't comment on the veracity of the elements of purely Irish history (myths and the Troubles) and geography, the writing itself is splendid and succinctly captures the intensely destructive flame of lust that is consuming both its main characters. Its Irish-ness is not alienating, but rather enlightening (as in, you feel enriched after having read it, not put off, as in 'I can't understand where this is coming from ...'). Well worth the read. ...more
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this book immensly. Dermot Healy draws you into his book with his raw and straight from the heart no-nonsence way of writing. Amazing amount of historical information and the enormous struggle with alcoholism and complex relationships. The lovely description of the landscape, the sea simple things like turf fires and candles burning and the way people speak, I’m a great fan and sad to know that this master of words is not amongst us anymore. But I will be reading more of his work.
Chris Tweed
Sep 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book immensely, so much so that I was at a loose end for a day or so after I finished it. I found the language Healy uses enchanting, though there were some passages that were very tough going because of their intensity and style of writing.The description of the main character's struggle with alcoholism was difficult to take, but the central themes of the book were gripping. ...more
Jul 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Another of those Irish good. The story of a guy trying to do the sober thing and the woman he lost...
Richard Gallagher
Dec 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Story of aa common guy trying to get by in present day Ireland. Interesting look into the difficulties with the country in both the North and South
Quite strange at times, and it took me some effort to make it through. But there are a lot of observations that are eerie in their truth...all the more so because they are largely painful ones.
Stephen reid
Feb 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful book .

I really enjoyed this book and a heady terrible mix of intense passion between two people with the devil of alcohol as the perpetual hand maiden.
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
Incredible book. One of the most beautiful yet heart rending books I've read, highly recommended. ...more
Patrick Leech
Sep 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the most moving, beautifully written books I have ever read.
Apr 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Each March, to honor my Irish-American heritage, I try to read at least one book by an Irish author. A Goat’s Song by Dermot Healy was my primary pick this year. Two months ago, I had never heard of Healy, an acclaimed Irish poet, playwright and novelist who died in 2014. A Goat’s Song was presented in several obituaries, as his greatest achievement. The novel even carries a blurb on its cover by Terry Eagleton, the respected literary critic, proclaiming A Goat’s Song “One of the most powerful p ...more
Aug 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, europe
I met Dermot Healy at a pub in Dublin in 2009. I was a drunk 19-year-old American, and I'm not sure how we started talking, but we did, and it came out that I wanted to be a writer. And so then I spent the evening with him, dancing, talking, singing, and generally just being very, very silly. He gave me writing advice, but I was much too drunk to remember it. At one point he got in front of the pub and sang an Irish song. I did some version of the Skidamarink dance next to him. I'm surprised he ...more
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Dermot Healy (born 1947 in Finnea, County Westmeath, Ireland) was an Irish novelist, playwright and poet. He won the Hennessy Award (1974 and 1976), the Tom Gallon Award (1983), and the Encore Award (1995). In 2011, he was shortlisted for the Poetry Now Award for his poetry collection, A Fool's Errand.

Healy was a member of Aosdána and of its governing body, the Toscaireacht, and lived in County Sl

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