This Magnificent Desolation

This Magnificent Desolation

Duncan’s entire world is the orphanage where he lives, a solitary outpost in the snowy expanse of northern Minnesota. Age ten in 1980, he has no memories of his life before now, but he has stories that he recites like prayers: the story of how his mother brought him here during the worst blizzard of the century, the story of how God spoke to him at his birth and gave him a special purpose. Duncan is sure that his mother is dead, until the day she turns up to claim him. Maggie Bright, a soprano who was once the talent of her generation, now sings in a San Francisco bar through a haze of whiskey cut with sharp regret. She often ends her nights in the arms of Joshua McGreevey, a Vietnam vet who earns his living as part of a tunnelling crew seventy feet beneath the Bay—and his wounds run deep too. Thrown into this adult world, Duncan finds comfort in an ancient radio, from which tumble the voices of Apollo mission astronauts who never came home.


“A slow, shimmery tone poem of a novel . . . O’Malley is a strikingly lyrical and precise writer.”
—The New York Times Book Review

A New York Times Editor’s Choice

Shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year 2013

“America, as the New World, has perhaps always been where the lost seek redemption and the desolate closely harbour their dreams, and this is marvellously evoked in O’Malley’s second novel … A sensitive depiction of haunted and scarred characters and O’Malley’s lyrical but spare prose invokes the numinous in the characters’ commonplace struggles as they strive to reconcile a blasted past and a frequently ashen present … I was struck foremost by its theme that imagination can offer a form of redemption for regret and everyday sadness.”
* * * * *

“O’Malley’s writing is imbued with a soft and strange magic…mystifying and mesmerizing at the same time.”
—Irish America Review of Books

“Novelists, if they should do nothing else, ought to transport their reader to the fictional world they’ve created. The best novelists do more. Thomas O’Malley has done much more with his astonishing second book, This Magnificent Desolation, a novel so immersive that it blurs the line between its characters’ lives and the life of the reader…the prose is incantatory, the images arresting and beautiful, the emotional resonance of nearly every moment heartbreaking or jubilant…Give yourself over to O’Malley’s pace, and the reward will be one of the best novels you’re likely to read this year.”
—Star Tribune

“A beautifully structured work…a powerful realized American novel…a moving and deeply affecting fiction which calls for engaged, even obsessive reading. It is a work of great artistic merit but also one of great sadness.”
—Irish Examiner

“O’Malley crafts a sensitive portrait of lost souls who desperately try to reconcile their pasts with their current realities. Haunting and dark, O’Malley’s narrative is profoundly moving. O’Malley manages to take some of the ugliest aspects of human existence and, through the magic of his words, infuse them with beauty and light.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“This literary novel soars…O’Malley writes shimmering, luminescent prose…A deeply spiritual novel about dissipation and waste.”
—Booklist, starred review

“Profoundly moving…Passages of jaw-dropping brilliance.”
—The New Zealand Herald

“A beautiful, floating novel. Thomas O’Malley writes with grace and style and bravery. There is not an ounce of cynicism here. While most of us remain earth-bound, O’Malley allows us to believe that we can, at various times, go to an imaginative elsewhere. Even the desolation can have its own magnificence. O’Malley is a great talent, reminiscent of another fine writer, Sebastian Barry.”
—Colum McCann,
author of Let the Great World Spin

“Thomas O’Malley is capable of evoking both the physical sensation of bring in the world and the numinous perceptions at the edge of the dream with a nuance and depth far beyond the reach of most writers. The America he conjures in This Magnificent Desolation resounds with the cold wind of our country’s history and aches with the sadness of the diminished now. It’s a brave and noble book, just like its author.”
—Joshua Furst,
author of The Sabotage Café

“A book to break your heart and then remake it, This Magnificent Desolation weaves the stories of some of the most marvellously complicated, yearning, and lifelike characters you’ll ever encounter. Encompassing the agony and wonder of life and making them mythic, this is a book to savor sentence by beautiful sentence.”
—Nick Arvin,
author of The Reconstructionist and Articles of War

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