John the Revelator by Peter Murphy

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John the Revelator by Peter Murphy

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Iain Wear
Reviewed by Iain Wear
Summary: A fairly slow moving, but beautifully written tale. Despite the slow pace, the telling of the story meant that I had to keep reading and the pages flew past.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 240 Date: February 2009
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571240203

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Up until now, I'd only ever heard of John the Revelator as a song. Judging from the several mentions of it in the story and given that author Peter Murphy works in the music press, I suspect that's where the title of this novel came from as well. How much I enjoy the song depends on which version of it I hear, but with no such concerns with the book, I was able to enjoy it fully without worrying if someone had done a better version elsewhere that I was missing out on.

John Devine is a teenager stuck in a small Irish town with a single mother, no real friends and a rather worrying fascination for bodily parasites, mostly intestinal worms. His only human contact is with his mother Lily, Mrs Nagle, an elderly neighbour and Harry Farrell, a local jack-of-all-trades. His only break from the house and from school is Sunday Mass. Not exactly the life of your average teenage boy and not the kind of life any teenage boy would want to live.

Things start to change when Jamey Corboy comes to town. For John, Jamey opens up a world he could never have imagined, introducing him to a life outside his own house. John takes up smoking and drinking and starts growing up and having a life. As he does, however, his mother becomes more and more ill and eventually Mrs Nagle has to come and look after them both. John the Revelator is the story of John Devine growing up from being a teenager to becoming a young man and all that he discovers about himself and about life in general as this happens.

John the Revelator is essentially a slice of small town Irish life as seen through the eyes of a teenage boy. As with most of life, it's pretty slow moving, but it's also surprisingly gripping. As a fan of thriller books, quite often a story with a slow pace can make me lose interest, but there was none of that here. I think it was the style of the story that kept me interested, as Murphy frequently switches between John's telling of the story, interspersed with some strange dreams he's having and often dropping in stories that Jamey has written to help illuminate the actions of some of the other characters.

The other aspect that kept me interested is that the story was very much just snippets of a life, rather than the detail, which does mean only the interesting parts are covered. Whilst this gives no real indication of how John Devine may cope with the boring parts of life, it does help speed things along. Whilst there is a lot going on, the period is quite long, so it never feels that Murphy is giving John Devine too much that would be unrealistic.

Everything he goes through, with his mother's illness, events with Jamey and even the sometimes strange dreams John Devine has, seem perfectly plausible and very real and this is much of the appeal of the story. Every adult was once a teenager and the process of growing up is one of discovery. In John Devine, Peter Murphy has created a character who explores himself and who we can sympathise with entirely, largely because we can possibly remember a time when we were much like John Devine.

Part of the enjoyment certainly comes from Murphy's writing style. He's not a particularly visual writer, but he is a very emotional writer. So whilst you don't always get a clear idea of what the characters and locations may look like, you do get a very clear picture of what they're feeling. Given that your average teenager is a ball of hormones as they grow up, this is far more important. John Devine goes through many emotional experiences as his life changes virtually completely from one end of the story to the other and you get to feel every one of them.

I enjoyed John the Revelator a lot more than I'd expected to after the early pages. Once it had passed the opening where we were meeting John Devine for the first time and I'd settled into the slow pace of the story, I suddenly found myself gripped by the tale. The amount of emotion shown and the interesting changes of pace provided by Jamey's stories made for a wonderful combination and I found myself reading huge chunks of the story at a time. It didn't suck me in as completely as Donna Milner's After River, but it's still an emotional and engrossing read.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If you enjoy stories of Irish families, check out Wilderness by Roddy Doyle.

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Buy John the Revelator by Peter Murphy at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy John the Revelator by Peter Murphy at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy John the Revelator by Peter Murphy at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy John the Revelator by Peter Murphy at


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