Review: The House of Mountfathom by Nigel McDowell


Hot Key Books
Publication Date: 09.03.2017
ISBN: 9781471404047
Number of Pages: 400

Copy won in a prize draw from Readers First.Entrants agree to provide an honest review in exchange. Many thanks to Readers First and Hot Key Books. 

Extract: 'The Day this land chooses battle and blood over discussion will be a sorry day for magic, and a sorrier day for all in Ireland'.
(The House of Mountfathom, P87.) 

Mountfathom is Luke’s home. He learns the principles of magic and plays in rooms which hold the mysteries of the world. It is also home to the Driochta, a magical organisation once allied to the government in Dublin. From the moment of the Easter Uprising, the allegiance of the Driochta becomes conflicted. This is a world in which magic has become entangled with politics. If the Driochta will not suppress the nationalist ‘rebels’, the Politomancer from Whitehall will.

This is an Ireland of old magic. It is also an Ireland divided – among loyalists and nationalists, among those with one hundred and thirty something rooms and those starving to death in the tenements. McDowell blends history with mythology. Ancient magical creatures have been driven out by political action. Rebels hide in abandoned Faerie Raths and loyalists make deals with the fire-weilding Callieach.

As a house, Mountfathom might be metaphoric of parental security. Concealed from the world by protective enchantments, it also contains a corridor leading to any place or time. Luke may be hidden behind its doors, but it is only a matter of time before he seeks out the world – or the world seeks him. Luke is an interesting character, naïve but receptive. Killian – born in the tenements of Dublin - has no protection. He has had too much adventure too soon. These boys are brought together, and must go forward in search of ultimate truths as they seek to save Mountfathom from government retribution, and those who believe Mountfathom is a symbol for inequality.

The fantasy world is well balanced by the political turmoil. While the ownership of magical knowledge and government control of magical power are fictional elements, they also symbolise real events and real issues. The principles of Luke’s magical education also serve to guide him through the unrest.

This book works on many different levels, but do not expect a conventional plot-arc. To understand this complex and lyrical piece of writing I think it is important to remember that McDowell died before the book reached publication. So much of the book is about impermanence – in terms of land ownership, political atmosphere and our own mortality.

McDowell’s language is poetic. I read more than one phrase aloud to savour the effect. The novel itself is something between a narrative and a piece of prose poetry. Divided into short sections, it is as interesting to read some of these separately for meaning as it is to work through the overall narrative.

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