A remarkable first novel from Williams--whose four previous books, written with his wife, have chronicled contemporary Irish life (The Luck of the Irish, 1995, etc.)--offers a powerful portrait of tragedy and of the redemption offered by love. Nicholas was a normal Dublin 12-year-old when his civil- servant father came home to announce he'd forsaken his career to become a painter. The full implications of that decision became clear shortly thereafter: Abandoning wife and son, the artist went off to the Irish countryside for the summer. After two summers of this and no income, Nicholas's mother committed suicide. Father and son struggled on, making one memorable painting trip to the western coast, after which cows destroyed many of the paintings, leaving the artist in doubt of his vocation. Years pass. Nicholas's own civil service career is cut short when his father burns his paintings, their house, and himself. Only one painting remains, a work that had been purchased and given as an award to a poet living on one of the western isles, and Nicholas goes to see whether he can buy it back. The poet's family is also familiar with despair: The only son, a musical prodigy, suffered a seizure one day while playing for his dancing sister, Isabel, and for years has been unable to play or speak. Isabel, blaming herself for his affliction, grew wild in her mainland convent school and threw away a good chance at a university education to marry a coarse, unprosperous tweed merchant whom she doesn't love. Nicholas arrives on the scene the day after Isabel's wedding, and his presence magically, inexplicably, begins to cause a shift in the prevailing winds of fortune. While a wealth of impressions linger from this debut, two words come most often to mind in describing it: Spellbinding. Brilliant.