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September 11, 2013

Book Notes - Peter Murphy "The River and Enoch O'Reilly"

The River and Enoch O'Reilly

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Peter Behrens wrote that The River and Enoch O'Reilly read "as though Flannery O'Connor had gone back to the Ireland of her forebears to write this novel." Peter Murphy's new novel is innovative in form and its dark, enchanting prose mesmerizes, seating Murphy among Ireland's sharpest modern literary voices.

Bookreporter wrote of the book:

"In this fever-dream of a novel, Peter Murphy issues a shaman's call to conjure together various traditions --- the gothic, the Irish, the Southern, the infusion of music into language, the infusion of myth into music and life, the search of a lost son for his long-lost father, our deep connections to our homelands and the cycles of nature. He establishes himself here, firmly, as one of Ireland's newest literary wonders."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In his own words, here is Peter Murphy's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, The River and Enoch O'Reilly:

My second novel The River and Enoch O'Reilly is, among other things, the story of a haunted river. In the winter of 1984, nine men give themselves to the Rua. The central mystery of the book: Why? More than anything, The River and Enoch O' Reilly (titled Shall We Gather at the River in the UK and Ireland) is a book about sound: the sound of running water, the sound of the blues in its darkest form, the babble of obsession, the sound of radio-age preachers and ghost voices on the airwaves. Here are just some of pieces of music that sustained me throughout the four years it took to write the book.

'Blue Moon' - Elvis Presley
All rock 'n' roll originals, from Robert Johnson to Ziggy Stardust, have the air of the stranded alien about them. 'Blue Moon' is eerie in the extreme, Elvis's voice channelled through the spook in Sam Phillips's machines. That slap-back echo effect generates a cosmically forlorn sound: 'Blue Moon' might be the prayer of John on Patmos, the Man Who Fell To Earth, or Dr. Manhattan on Mars.

'Lost In the Flood' - Bruce Springsteen
This is a strange one in the Bruce canon: complex, poetic, rich with Catholic imagery. 'Lost In the Flood' predicts both the high drama of Born To Run and the darkness of Nebraska. I listened to it many times while writing, and not just because of the biblical title. Somehow Bruce's testimonial for Vietnam survivors calls across the years to the misfits and lost souls who ended up populating the world of Murn in 1984.

'Faster' - Manic Street Preachers
Some define depression as anger turned inward. 'Faster' from The Holy Bible articulates the polar swings of self aggrandisement and self negation. Its volcanic energy is tempered by the anticipation of an inevitable crash.

'O Mary Don't You Weep' - Traditional
'God gave Noah the rainbow sign/No more water but fire next time'. Not only did this old spiritual song provide the gist of the priest's speech in the prologue, it also inspired the pyromaniacal episode in Iggy Ellis's section. I should also mention the Sermons disc from the Goodbye Babylon box set, which was invaluable in learning about the rhythms of old-time preachifying.

'The Killing Moon' - Echo and the Bunnymen
The story of Billy Litt, the possibly homicidal slaughterhouse worker in the book, was spawned from a much longer story, maybe even a novella, about teenage boys who murder a man in order to protect the honour of the girl they're both in love with. I might yet write that story in full. If it happens, Echo and the Bunnymen's tune will be on constant rotation.

'A Rainbow In Curved Air' - Terry Riley
The tormented radiovangelist Enoch O'Reilly is the son of an Irish Korean War veteran. Early in the book he becomes possessed by a voice he hears on his father's radio surveillance equipment. In researching the back story I got sucked into a mini-history of what you might call analogue futurism, from Marconi to ARPANET. A Rainbow In Curved Air is the sound of that age.

'Old Man River' - Frank Sinatra
Paul Robeson's version is regarded as the definitive, but there's an extraordinary Youtube clip of Frank doing this with full MGM bells, whistles, orchestra and dancers. Behind all the glitz though, the man could surely sing. He understood the anger, weariness and despair in the words and melody, following the character's arc from stoicism into protest.

'Suzanne' - Leonard Cohen
For its personification of the river as siren, the bestowing of a voice upon the water. The list of great river songs is endless: Nick Drake's 'River Man', The Doors' 'Yes, the River Knows', Mancini and Mercer's 'Moon River'...

'A Change Is Gonna Come' - Sam Cooke
'I was born by the river...' You don't get a better opening line than that. 'A Change Is Gonna Come' serves anyone who ever felt like a castaway on this planet. It's only now, listening to it long after the book's completion, that I realise it could have come from any of the characters' mouths.

The Brotherhood of the Flood - The Revelator Orchestra
Few writers are lucky enough to have a soundtrack tailored to their words even as they're working on the manuscript. The Revelator Orchestra's second album, The Brotherhood of the Flood, written and recorded with Acko and Paula Cox, was assembled even as I was cranking out drafts. We'll be releasing this one next spring.

Peter Murphy and The River and Enoch O'Reilly links:

the author's website

Booklist review
Bookreporter review
Irish Voice review
Publishers Weekly review

Huffington Post essays by the author

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for John the Revelator

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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