Whether or not you recognise Homer’s characters in the IRA gang of Hughes’s second novel, the rhythmic language will keep you enthralled
In his first novel, 2016’s The Countenance Divine, Michael Hughes proved himself to be daring, inventive and ambitious. It was a big novel of ideas and wild imaginings in the style of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, skipping across the centuries and interweaving multiple tales into an apocalyptic thriller. Country is his take on Homer’s Iliad. A writer’s second novel, it is often said, truly gives the tone: Hughes has set his standards high.
Homer’s epic poem begins with the word “menin”, meaning wrath or rage, which indicates what it is all about. It ends with the funeral of Hector. Hughes’s novel begins: “Fury. Pure fury. The blood was up. Lost the head completely.” It ends with the funeral of SAS captain Henry Morrow. In Country, as in the Iliad, what lies between is a vast territory of loss.