Books by Brian O'Doherty

Released: May 15, 1999

Editor of Fraser's Magazine, William Maginn finds his interest piqued when, in a London pub in the 1950s, he hears tell of an Irish mountain village that was abandoned in 1940 after a shameful legal trial. Off he goes to get the story for himself, and the result is another captivating read from O'Doherty (The Strange Case of Mademoiselle P, 1992). In the town below where the village disappeared, Maginn meets only with sealed lips until, with a reporter's sleuthing that goes a bit past the strictly ethical, he gets his hands on what he wants: the thick folded packet of papers containing the long police deposition made by Father Hugh McGreevy, who'd been the village's priest for 33 years, knew everything that had happened, and had now himself been banned from serving mass. What had happened? Fr. McGreevy's deposition constitutes by far the largest part of O'Doherty's story, carrying the reader through the terrible winter of '49, when all five of the village's wives and mothers died then through the next winter, against all odds equally severe and bringing trial upon trial to the remaining villagers—in good part via the uncontrollable madness (and sexual dallyings with the livestock) of young Tadhg O'Sullivan, who'd been an idiot ever since being struck in childhood by a flung stone. Father McGreevy's despairing efforts to salvage the honorable and hale folk values and traditions of the village can't hold it together or keep its reputation for insanity and perversion from spreading undeservedly. Nor is he helped by the craziness that emerges in Old Biddy, his housekeeper, or by a horrible death, and a conflagration, and what to biased and ignorant outsiders will seem an exorcism. Anchored in the very textures of a hard daily life lived by real people in real places, O'Doherty's novel of a village has more in it of a true Ireland—and world—than many a dozen others. Read full book review >
Released: June 1, 1992

Art critic O'Doherty's first novel is a quiet, sure-footed, and sensitive glimpse into the inner workings of Enlightenment Vienna and the world of Mozart, the Empress Maria Theresa, and Dr. Franz Mesmer. In 1777, an 18-year-old girl by the name of Marie ThÇräse, named after the great (and reigning) Hapsburg empress, is brought for treatment to Dr. Mesmer, who is known—through his theory of ``animal magnetism''—for having previously cured cases of blindness. The lovely Marie is a gifted pianist whose talent—she plays duets with Mozart and performs often before the royal court- -has already earned her a royal pension. That her blindness is due to no organic flaw in her eyes is determined at once by the intelligent and soothing Dr. Mesmer—but his successful treatment of her hysterical blindness (mainly through massage of the body) also brings about an apparent diminishment in her musical skills. Marie's father, a ruthless courtier who desperately fears losing the remunerative favor of the Empress, is so alarmed at the loss of his daughter's performing ability that he schemes to bring about the disrepute of Dr. Mesmer and finally manages, in the face of the confused hysteria of his own crazed and deluded wife, to wrest her from Dr. Mesmer's care. This domestic and medical drama—unfolded in chapters told by the beleaguered Marie herself, by the good Dr. Mesmer, and by Marie's demonically self-interested father—allows O'Doherty to graze wonderfully amidst the living ideas of the Enlightenment, tasting its daily life, watching the French Revolution pass by, and offering jabs at the inadvertent narrow- mindedness of, for example, the rational Ben Franklin, who plays a part in the Commission denouncing the pre-Freudian Dr. Mesmer. Marie herself is pathetically captivating, and the novel she appears in is an intellectual tour-de-force of quiet powers abounding with nosegays of subtle historical pleasures. Read full book review >