Cover image for A son called Gabriel : a novel
A son called Gabriel : a novel
McNicholl, Damian.
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Publication Information:
New York : CDC Books, [2004]

Physical Description:
343 pages ; 22 cm
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Set in the hills of Northern Ireland in the 1960s and 70s, A SON CALLED GABRIEL is a deeply felt and often funny coming-of-age novel that is ultimately unforgettable.

Gabriel Harkin, the eldest of four children in a working-class family, struggles through a loving yet often brutal childhood. It's a turbulent time in Ulster, and in the staunchly Catholic community to which Gabriel belongs, the strict rules for belief and behavior are clear. As Gabriel begins to suspect that he's not like other boys, he tries desperately to lock away his feelings, and his fears. But secrets have a way of being being discovered, and Gabriel learns that his might not be the only ones in the Harkin family....

Evoking a sense of time and place as compelling as ANGELA'S ASHES and AT SWIM, TWO BOYS, Damian McNicholl's A SON CALLED GABRIEL announces the arrival of a striking new literary voice.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

This first novel, a coming-of-age story set in Northern Ireland during the years 1964-78, makes for slow, painful, but ultimately moving reading. Catholic schoolboy Gabriel Harkin faces formidable obstacles to fitting into his family and community. In the background lurks the threat of religious prejudice; in the foreground is his increasing awareness that he may be homosexual. Subjected to brutal hazing by his more athletic classmates, Gabriel feigns an interest in football and seeks to repress his sexuality. He becomes almost hyperaware of all the characteristics that mark him as different and channels his energy into studying for the exams that will become his ticket out of his insular, increasingly violent hometown. A secret involving his uncle, a conflicted priest, also haunts the family. Perhaps the most poignant aspect of this novel, though, is the way his parents and siblings, although severely limited in their knowledge of how to help him, seek to comfort him in his struggle to conform. Patient readers will be rewarded by this touching portrait of one boy's hopes and fears. --Joanne Wilkinson Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

An Ulster adolescent struggles to come to terms with his homosexuality in the 1960s and '70s in McNicholl's fine, compassionate coming-of-age story. Gabriel Harkin, the eldest child in a working-class family, is a sensitive boy: he gets picked on at school, and he'd rather play with girls than kiss them. When a predatory older boy introduces him to sex ("I'll be the doctor and examine you, then you do the same to me"), Gabriel's desires cause terrible guilt; such acts, according to the Church, are "abominations." Though eventually Gabriel overcomes the intimidation of his classmates, figuring out his sexual identity proves more difficult, as he bounces back and forth between dates with girls and clandestine trysts with boys. There are secrets, too, surrounding Gabriel's Uncle Brendan, a priest who left Ireland for Kenya after a family scandal. McNicholl paints a rich picture of Gabriel's life and all its conflicted messages about sex: while his mother is so prudishly Catholic she can't bear to watch a TV kiss, one of the priests at Gabriel's church sexually abuses him. Gabriel wants to be like the other boys, but when he gets himself a serious girlfriend, matters explode. Awkward, sometimes tender sex scenes-with both genders-recall all the clumsy uncertainties of adolescence. McNicholl is a graceful writer, and his is a worthy debut. Agent, James Levine. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved