editor's choice



There’s a lovely moment In the Absence of Miracles, when Michael J. Malone’s protagonist is catching up with a childhood friend whom he hasn’t seen in an age, and the residual awkwardness that one quite often feels in such circumstances just falls away.

There we sat, with legs kicking the side. The years fell away and we were twelve years old again. We looked at one another and an unspoken message passed between us. A message of mutual affection, one we both understood but felt too constrained to acknowledge.

The book is full of such quiet moments, fragments of ordinary life which often, through Malone’s crafted use of language, seem both familiar and rather extraordinary. In this, he reminds me of Raymond Carver, whose writing I adore.

In the Absence of Miracles is framed by John, the central character, returning ‘home’ from Glasgow, after his ‘not long turned sixty’ mother has a devastating stroke. Realising that he’ll probably have to sell her home to pay for ongoing care, he begins to sift through her possessions and comes across some photographs of a young child he doesn’t recognise. After further investigation, he discovers that the boy is his brother, a child who no one acknowledges and about whom he has no memory.

There’s a rather beautiful melancholia pervading Malone’s writing, which underlies every action or thought that John or the other well-realised characters make or have. As John uncovers more about the past, the results are shocking, shaking the foundations on which his life and mores have been based.

Psychological thriller apart, In the Absence of Miracles is at times heart-rending. It challenges our perception of what is memory, questioning the choices we make, consciously or unconsciously, about what we remember and what we must forget in order to move forward, in order to survive.

I am a Michael J. Malone fan. I love his writing. And this book, while deeply unsettling at times, is a gem.



In the Absence of Miracles | Michael J. Malone | Orenda Books | 19 September 2019 | paperback original | £8.99 

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Acknowledgements: Book text quotes © 2019 Michael J. Malone. Many thanks to Anne Cater, as always, and to the publisher for sending a book proof and jacket image. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved.

Also of interest:By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept’; ‘Yvonne Battle-Fenton’s Rememembered‘; ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised‘; ‘We should all be feminists‘; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’;Permission by Saskia Vogel‘; ‘Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, Dialogue’s brilliant debut; ‘RW Kwon’s The Incendiaries’; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir‘; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”‘; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).

Select Q&As/interviews: ‘Ausma Zehanat Khan’; Mary Balogh‘; ‘Louise Voss’; ‘Lilja Sigurðardóttir’; ’Tom Cox’; ‘Vanda Symon; ‘Gunnar Staalesen’; Some like it hot – the joy of Carole Mortimer, award-winning novelist


This review is © 2019 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.








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