Noting how past interpreters--like early Christian scholars and Ireland's Lady Gregory--have both sanitized and distorted the Celtic tale that chronicles the wanderings of Mael Duin (sometimes called The Book of the Dun Cow), first-novelist Aakhus sets out on a new voyage round the ancient manuscript. For her retelling she's armed with a little hip-pocket Freud--who puts a whole new (largely misogynistic) spin on this Irish odyssey. The lay according to Aakhus begins in 839, when two Irish monks endeavor to learn the full story of Mael Duin, already a legendary hero (just 50 years after his death) and the founder of the Monastery of Tallaght. They track down Diuran Leccerd, half poet, half druid, who actually accompanied Mael Duin on his voyage and has carved the tale into a staff. What follows is the story of Mael Duin, a Conemarra boy who at 16 learns his true parentage: His mother is an insane nun, and his father was killed by Vikings, an unavenged murder that makes Duin an outcast, His effort to claim vengeance takes him over the seas to strange lands inhabited by giant ants, voiceless birds, and a witch named Epona--who captivates Mael Duin and, as the Oedipally-minded Aakhus suggests, functions as his mother/lover. Aakhus' bardic tone is simple and intimate, and she has provided an imaginative explanation for the survivial of the ancient text. But this confusing epic still gives new meaning to the phrase ""at sea,"" posing interpretive problems that neither Aakhus nor Freud can crack.