Announcing our Top 20 Books of 2022

BookBrowse Reviews John the Revelator by Peter Murphy

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

John the Revelator

A Novel

by Peter Murphy

John the Revelator by Peter Murphy X
John the Revelator by Peter Murphy
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Aug 2009, 272 pages

    Apr 2010, 272 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
Buy This Book

About this Book



An astounding first novel suffused with family secrets, eerie imagery, black humor, and hypnotic prose

Peter Murphy's debut, John the Revelator, is in many ways structured like other well-known 20th-century Irish novels such as Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle, and Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe; it's dark, gothic and gritty, has elements of both tragedy and black comedy, and is populated with stock characters; but the author transcends the genre, taking these stereotypes and breathing new life into them. The resulting work is utterly fresh, unique, and quite unlike anything else I've read.

Murphy's writing is difficult to categorize, primarily because he uses so many different techniques throughout the novel. While much of the book is straight-forward narration, he also inserts snappy dialog, dream sequences, fables, Bible tales, and even stand-alone short stories penned by one of the characters. Each part has its own flavor, its own style, proving him to be an author of great versatility.

Underlying this variety is a base of simply beautiful writing. Murphy's characterizations are rich, and his descriptions evocative:

The sky over Kilcody was deep red, big-bellied clouds moving across its expanse like herds of woolly mammoths. I hurried towards the village, powerless to stop what was happening. It was as though all the moments that made up our lives had been set in sequence like dominoes, a succession of trigger events, each precipitating the next, the number of our days preordained and planned since the beginning of time, and we were all no more than creatures made of billions of specks of dust sucked into the collapsing stars of our fates.

John the Revelator will likely be billed as a coming of age novel. The protagonist does mature from child to adult through the course of the book, so to some extent that designation is apt. Truly, though, the book is more a snapshot of one pivotal year in the life of an adolescent boy, and, as in real life, some experiences have meaning, some don't, some problems get resolved, others are ongoing. This may frustrate readers who like neat, tidy plot lines with definitive resolutions, as they won't find those elements cleanly delineated, but it feels eminently appropriate in the context of this novel.

Murphy packs many different characters and events into this short book, and consequently it seems a bit too condensed; it would perhaps have benefited from the inclusion of more exposition. From time-to-time, too, the scenes feel disconnected from one another, episodic, almost as if the author had originally penned parts of the novel as separate short stories. These flaws are minor, though, and do little to detract from the book's overall quality.

John the Revelator will undoubtedly garner rave critical reviews, but the reading public will likely have a wide range of opinions on whether or not it's worth perusing. I can't even categorically state that this is one of those books readers will either love or hate; Murphy's writing is so distinctive that reader ratings will almost certainly run the full spectrum. The novel should appeal most to those who revel in quality writing and enjoy books that break the mold.

About the Author
Peter Murphy is a contributing editor with Hot Press magazine and has written for Rolling Stone, the Sunday Business Post, and others. Murphy has written liner notes (the writings found in booklet form in many CDs) for albums and anthologies, including the forthcoming re-mastered edition of the Anthology of American Folk Music, which features the "Blind" Willie Johnson recording of the song John the Revelator. He lives in the southeast of Ireland, in County Wexford, where he grew up. John the Revelator was his first novel.

Images: Above: Peter Murphy; Right: "Blind" Willie Johnson

Reviewed by Kim Kovacs

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in September 2009, and has been updated for the May 2010 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join and Save 20%!

Become a member and
discover exceptional books.

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket
    by Richard Powers
    In 2019, Richard Powers won the Pulitzer Prize for The Overstory, a sprawling novel whose characters...
  • Book Jacket: I'm the Girl
    I'm the Girl
    by Courtney Summers
    YA author Courtney Summers doesn't believe in shielding her teenage readers from the world's darkest...
  • Book Jacket: They're Going to Love You
    They're Going to Love You
    by Meg Howrey
    Teenage Carlisle lives with her mother in Ohio, but their relationship has never felt particularly ...
  • Book Jacket: The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
    The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
    by Isaac Blum
    That irreplaceable feeling of everyone knowing your name. The yearning to be anonymous. Parents ...

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Natural History
    by Andrea Barrett

    A masterful new collection of interconnected stories, from the renowned National Book Award–winning author.


Solve this clue:

W N, W Not

and be entered to win..

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Ways We Hide
by Kristina McMorris
From the bestselling author of Sold On A Monday, a sweeping tale of an illusionist recruited by British intelligence in World War II.
Who Said...

Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.