'Reading this book is like sitting in the pub listening to a good friend tell you stories. It does what only the best retellings can and makes you see the myth anew' Daisy Johnson
That was the start of it. A terrible business altogether. Oh, it was all kept off the news, for the sake of the talks and the ceasefire. But them that were around that part of the country remember every bit.
Wait now till you hear the rest.
Northern Ireland, 1996.
After twenty-five years of conflict, the IRA and the British have agreed an uneasy ceasefire, as a first step towards lasting peace. But if decades of savage violence are leading only to smiles and handshakes, those on the ground in the border country will start to question what exactly they have been fighting for.
When an IRA man's wife turns informer, he and his brother gather their old comrades for an assault on the local army base. But the squad's feared sniper suddenly refuses to fight, and the SAS are sent in to crush this rogue terror cell before it can wreck the fragile truce, and drag the whole region back to the darkest days of the Troubles.
Inspired by the oldest war story of them all, this powerful new Irish novel explores the brutal glory of armed conflict, and the bitter tragedy of those on both sides who offer their lives to defend the honour of their country.
Michael Hughes grew up in Keady, Co. Armagh, and now lives in London. He attended St Patrick's Grammar School in Armagh and read English at Corpus Christi College, Oxford before training in theatre at the Jacques Lecoq School in Paris. He has worked for many years as an actor under the professional name Michael Colgan, and he also teaches creative writing. His first novel, The Countenance Divine, was published by John Murray in 2016.
A lively, convincing demotic that captures an Irish idiomatic flow and an echo of Homer's formalities and hexametric lines. It begs to be read aloud — The Times
The language is enough to keep you enthralled . . . a violent pounding demotic as memorable in its way as Homer's hexameter — Guardian
A bold, imaginative second novel — The Spectator
Energetic . . . an ingenious refitting that illuminates both conflicts — Guardian, Books of the Year 2018
Country explodes with verbal invention, rapid juxtaposition, brutality and fun . . . Hughes's linguistic dexterity, his ear for dialogue, his understanding of character, the energy of his prose — TLS
Reading this book is like sitting in the pub listening to a good friend tell you stories. It does what only the best retellings can and makes you see the myth anew — Daisy Johnson
This is a hard, rigorous and necessary book which grinds out its beauty as the song cycles of empire and resistance fall silent, choked in their own blood — Irish Times
A brutal and gripping thriller in its own right . . . a consistently engrossing read, written in Ulster-flavoured prose as rich and evocative as you would expect from a professional thespian — Irish Independent
Consistently thrilling . . . By enlisting the visceral power of The Iliad to illustrate the violence of the Troubles . . . Hughes has written a striking, memorable book — Literary Review
Prose that crackles with the vernacular of hard men, yet remains compulsively readable throughout . . . a classic story, and a gritty contemporary thriller, this book is an extraordinary achievement — Stuart Neville
This powerful novel is full of blistering writing that leaps off the page and is perhaps the first great fiction about The Troubles since Dermot Healy — Boundless
I couldn't put Country down. Tears through the pages at a cracking pace with sharp, smart prose and excellent dialogue — Paul McVeigh
Hughes has to contort some and plot elements to match the exigencies of themes such as honour, religion, slavery and warrior/royal behaviour in the 8th century pre-Christian Mediterranean world. But he does this so cleverly and audaciously that the reader goes with him - for the sheer fun of it, if nothing else . . . In a way, his colloquialised retelling (a tour de force of voice, reminiscent of the heights achieve by Patrick McCabe in The Butcher Boy) is truer to the hexameter rhythms of the original poem — Irish Examiner
Exceptionally good — Books Ireland
Clear-voiced and visceral . . . This enjoyable novel gives voice to fine characters that are challenging, selfish, brutal and worth your time — Irish Daily Mail
Thrillerishly bite-sized chapters hurtle towards an explosive climax — The Observer
Hughes brilliantly reconciles Homeric rhythms with his muscular modern idiom — Lucy Hughes-Hallett, New Statesman Best Books of 2018
Country struck me as this year's most daring Troubles novel — Ian Sansom, TLS Books of the Year