The protagonist in Irish-born author Patrick McCabe's latest novel,
WINTERWOOD, is a journalist whose roots lie in rural Ireland. In
1981, Redmond Hatch is assigned to return to his childhood home,
Slievenageeha, to report on the changing traditions in
There, Redmond's comfortable life begins to unravel. By
happenstance, Redmond arrives during the festival celebration, an
annual event that dredges up old-style britches, dancing, fiddling
and storytelling prowess. Redmond is guided to Auld Pappie, the
fiddler extraordinaire, who promises an interview with Redmond
after his performance. In the old language, he toasts, "To you good
health, young man of the mountain. Welcome Home."
They remain in the pub talking about the old days until late in the
night. Pappie brings up stories of Redmond's own family that
Redmond had pushed far into the recesses of his mind. He's too
comfortable with his loving wife, Catherine, and their daughter,
Imogen, to drag up painful childhood memories.
Ned is Auld Pappie's proper name but the latter suits him best,
Redmond decides upon closer association with the man. The stories
he tells are about card-playing, wild women, cattle raids, horse
racing and ceilidhs that last eternally; it's obvious that some of
these tales are fabricated. One evening, Ned's mood turns quite
dark. He picks up an old book, THE HEART'S ENCHANTMENT, given
to Annamarie Gordon by John Olson in 1963. Annamarie was the love
of Ned's life, but she had been courted by another local man. Ned's
next story is of revenge against Olson, whom he followed to the
United States, stabbed and nearly beat to death. Redmond realizes
that Ned has a mean streak and may be delusional.
Redmond considers his family and marriage to be a gift that should
be cherished. During times of financial struggles, he's both father
and mother to Immy while Catherine works during the day. However,
his marriage --- and precious moments with Immy --- comes to an
unfortunate end when he finds Catherine in bed with another
Redmond becomes obsessed with his interviews with Auld Pappie, who
has been charged with and convicted of sexually molesting a young
boy in the village. Ned is sent to prison and dies there. Redmond's
thoughts turn to the ways he had been manipulated by Ned, even
intimately, and his mind clutches for good memories in his life.
Immy must be rescued from her citified existence and brought back
to Winterwood, where life and stories are all good. He hatches a
plan to meet her and bring her home. His mind is centered on this
sole act, detaching him from reality.
Redmond continues to recall the chilling tales that Ned related,
taking them for his own realities. Rohrman's Confectionary, with
the sickening smell of spearmint surrounding the property, is the
site where Ned's crime had been committed. Redmond takes the
place for his own and spends an increasing amount of time at
Winterwood, secluding himself there with his memories. Catherine
becomes his focus again when he learns that her husband has died.
Winterwood is where she'll recant her distrust and be his first
love again; their missing daughter may be the tie that will bind
Stories from childhoods long forgotten, dredged to light by a
master storyteller and miscreant, wreck a modern man's life and
send him into dark places in his mind from which he cannot escape.
The interviews with the fiddler bring terror, hate, love, madness,
psychotic delusions and fame. Is the price worth it for a return to
Winterwood? The novel is chilling yet demands to be read to its
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on January 24, 2011