Summary and book reviews of My Coney Island Baby by Billy O'Callaghan

My Coney Island Baby

by Billy O'Callaghan

My Coney Island Baby by Billy  O'Callaghan X
My Coney Island Baby by Billy  O'Callaghan
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2019, 256 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2020, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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About this Book

Book Summary

An exquisite, heart-breaking novel by an Irish discovery.

Radiant with beauty, longing, and desire, and deeply touching, this literary novel, reminiscent of the works of William Trevor and Colm Tóibín, evokes the long love affair between a man and a woman, each married to another, who meet every month in a decaying hotel in Coney Island, Brooklyn.

On a bitterly cold winter's afternoon, Michael and Caitlin, two middle-aged lovers, escape their unhappy marriages to keep an illicit date. Once a month for the past quarter of a century, Coney Island has been their haven, the place in which they have abandoned themselves to their love.

These beautiful, carefully-rationed days have long sustained Michael and Caitlin's love, and have helped help them survive the tedium of their lives separate from each other. But now, amid the howling winds whipping off the Atlantic, and a snow storm blackening the horizon, this nearly abandoned resort feels like the edge of the world. On this winter day, burrowed in their private cocoon, they will discover that their lives are on the brink of change.

Michael's wife is battling cancer, and Caitlin's husband is about to receive a major promotion, which will involve relocating to the Midwest. After half a lifetime together in their most intimate moments, certain long-denied facts must be faced, decisions made, consequences weighed and, maybe, just maybe, chances finally taken.

A quiet, intense depiction of love and intimacy, My Coney Island Baby reveals, within the course of a single day's passing, the histories, landscapes, tragedies and occasional moments of wonder that constitute the lives of two people who, although living worlds apart, have been inexorably drawn together. But even in this most private of retreats, a place seemingly built for romance, the most heartbreaking of realities loom.

I
The Boardwalk

The air out here is mean with cold. It was bitter on the journey out from Manhattan too, but nothing like this. This is bleakness without respite. An hour in the subway was an hour shielded from the wind, and now it is almost noon and already threatening snow. Michael and Caitlin walk quickly, side by side, heads lowered, shoulders hunched. Apart from a couple of drunks in a doorway arguing mutedly over a bottle, and further out past Nathan's along Surf Avenue an elderly black man leashed by a length of orange clothes line twine to a ridiculously small dog, the streets feel deserted, locked down. Most of the stores along here are shuttered too, some closed for the season, others having already written off the day as a bad debt. Passing trade is below freezing. The few places that insist on remaining open – a liquor store, a 7-Eleven, some sort of a goodwill shop with stacks of used, spine-cracked paperbacks in wicker baskets still out on the window ledges and ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

He writes steadfast descriptions of the natural world bearing down hard on the two lovers on this particular harsh day. And it's not only nature that gets this treatment, Michael and Caitlin's emotional lives get it as well, which, in turn, taps into our emotional lives, making this novel not just a read, but an experience too – because O'Callaghan's text basically says: "Follow me softly. I will also tell you the story of your life here."..continued

Full Review (645 words).

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(Reviewed by Rory L. Aronsky).

Media Reviews

Minneapolis Star Tribune
Readers will note that O’Callaghan refuses to chide his characters for their bad decisions. And yet, their regret is apparent. “Love … is the story we make up to justify all the rotten things we do,” Caitlin says. A small story told at close range, My Coney Island Baby is suffused with great, painful beauty.

The Sunday Times (UK)
O'Callaghan [has made a] significant achievement in this fine novel… Good books remind us of other good books and in its treatment of adultery this one calls to mind thematic ancestors such as Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina and The Scarlet Letter.

Scottish Herald (UK)
Intensely romantic… [Billy O'Callaghan] is also a writer who knows how to control his characters, his narrative, and… his voice. That's what counts, and it's what makes My Coney Island Baby such a good novel.

The Guardian (UK)
A poignant, piercing meditation on middle age and the passing of time… these characters will linger with you long after the book is closed.

Sunday Independent (UK)
This is not an epic novel. There are no heroes. It is the story of two ordinary people trapped in their ordinary lives. But in the hands of O'Callaghan it is magnified to the truly extraordinary. A great tragedy. I long thought Anita Brookner the high priestess when it comes to telling the tales of loneliness and defeat. But she's now got company.

The Irish Independent
With poeticism and aching sensitivity, O'Callaghan unknots the minute workings of these starved adulterous souls … images rendered here stick with you, such is the intensity that they shimmer with.

The Irish Times
Quiet, subtle and deeply moving … This is a fine novel, with elegance and wisdom lying beneath an unpretentious surface and O'Callaghan, a gifted writer, has managed to do that most difficult of things: take a quiet, almost everyday story and transform it into a thing of beauty.

Publishers Weekly
Vividly rendered… O'Callaghan excels at painting a portrait of physical and emotional isolation.

Booklist
Driven by language rather than plot, the novel strikes a mood as elegaic as it is sensual.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. O'Callaghan anatomizes these emotional and psychological odysseys, making a narrative light on incident compellingly readable.

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Beyond the Book

A Coney Island Tour

Dreamland TowerHere we are, at the famed Coney Island in Brooklyn, through the eyes of Billy O'Callaghan in his novel My Coney Island Baby. The air is "mean with cold." Snow's coming, so along Surf Avenue, past Nathan's Hot Dogs, "most of the stores along here are shuttered…some closed for the season, others having already written off the day as a bad debt." It's cold here. The rising, relentless wind "gusts and swirls." Not a season for beachgoers to dash down the promenade, seeking the magic that Coney Island is famous for. O'Callaghan points out the ocean. As he sees it: "The horizon line has been rubbed away and there is nothing beyond the loose logic of suggestion to differentiate between water and sky."

AstrolandNothing but gray. What can we do to ...

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