donal mclaughlin

on & off the page


Donal’s second short story collection, beheading the virgin mary & other storieswas published in April 2014 by Dalkey Archive, following his appearance both as an author and a translator in Best European Fiction 2012 (Dalkey Archive).


“a corker!’



A superb collection of short stories relating the experience of a family dislocated from their home in Northern Ireland to Glasgow during the Troubles.

‘Books We Like’, Booktrust (London)



Liam O’Donnell, an Irish boy growing up in Scotland, is often the focus of Donal McLaughlin’s hilarious and harrowing short stories, and in beheading the virgin mary, he continues this loose narrative, interspersed — every second story — with unrelated reports. Here, Liam steps in dog dirt on his way to Sunday Mass; Bloody Sunday is experienced as a series of phone calls to the home of a Scottish neighbour; and the title story introduces the next generation of O’Donnells. With his keen ear and inimitable spirit, the always innovative McLaughlin is one of the brightest lights of contemporary European fiction.

Dalkey Archive



McLaughlin uses his brilliant ear for living, leaping language to tell stories of how the great wars enter small and tender lives. He is a writer of such humanity! His prose is alive and shining! Buy it! Buy it!

Kiran Desai, Winner of the Booker Prize for The Inheritance of Loss


That rare thing: a truly natural storyteller. Out of Ireland, by way of Scotland, meet Donal McLaughlin. This man breathes and out comes an unforgettable story. beheading the virgin mary introduces to a hungry new audience a beautifully manic, outrageously comic, politically acute, and emotionally devastating new voice.

Peter Orner, author of Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge



Liquidly written, darkly witty, and highly recommended for literate readers; all Irvine Welsh and Kevin Barry fans should pick [this book] up.

Library Journal (New York), Indie List


McLaughlin’s ear for dialogue is also visual, if that’s possible: his Northern Irish characters adhere to exclamation points like a mark of identity, and accumulatively they give the world of the growing Liam O’Donnell a forceful, yet also humorous, masculinity as he negotiates his way over the twin peaks of politics and family.

Lesley McDowell, Sunday Herald (Glasgow)


Alternating between the life of Liam O’Donnell, a boy whose family left Ireland for Scotland in the late 1960s, and numerous other characters and moments, this collection of poised and elegant stories demonstrate the ways in which identity, family and politics are overlaid.

Often very funny – an episode in which a boy desperately tries to deal with a dog shit-encrusted shoe whilst in church evokes the embarrassment of the moment wonderfully, or the story in which a man lies to his wife, pretending he’s off to the football when he’s really off to the People’s Palace museum – are standouts. Other stories address the darkest aspects of the Troubles and their effects on the Irish diaspora.

All of them, to a fault, are generous and humane. McLaughlin’s prose is superb, his ear for language acute: the texture of the Irish and Glaswegian voices that populate the stories are convincing, capturing the idiosyncrasies of dialect and the circumlocutions of a story related from memory, spoken aloud. A vivid and convincing collection.

Booktrust (London),Books We Like


McLaughlin enjoys breaking open the kinds of memories that are all too easily trapped in amber [ …]

I doubt [he] will be writing love letters to the Church anytime soon, but his characters carry narratives of downfall and redemption in their very blood and bones […]

Favoring meticulous attention to personality and speech over traditional dramatic technique, McLaughlin draws emotional heft from the most mundane-seeming moments. There is suspense in these stories not because we dread or anticipate what may happen, but because the characters are rendered with depth and command attention. McLaughlin foregoes the usual apparatus of short-story exposition – the analysis and gap-filling which too often results in little more than a fictionalized case-study – and relies more upon language and momentary observations […]

This is writing that begs to be read aloud. It accomplishes a prose-poetic musicality while conveying character and place with perfect efficiency […]

“We Now Know” takes on fatherhood and the church in their darkest forms […] It is unbearably terrifying, all the more so because it is rooted in the rhythm of the spoken word. As with all the stories in the collection, the prose is tailored to fit the personality of the narrator or protagonist. Here, the short, direct sentence structures convey the bluntness of someone who feels no need to embellish. The piece would make for a powerful actor’s monologue.

Andrew S. Taylor, American Book Review


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