The Woodcutter and His Family by Frank McGuinness


My grateful thanks to the publishers The O’Brien Press for providing a copy of The Woodcutter and His Family by Frank McGuinness in return for an honest review.

The Woodcutter and His Family is published by O’Brien on 18th September 2017 and is available for pre-order here.

The Woodcutter and His Family


My son betrayed me. It is a family tradition.
Didn’t I do the same to my father?

The World War intensifies in Europe. In Zurich a writer breathes his last imagining his life till now from his childhood in Dublin.

The voices of his family circling him – wife, son, daughter – carry him to his end as he hears each separate chapter chronicling the power of their passion for their famous father, their love, their hate, their need, their sorrows and joys, their strangeness.

And James Joyce has saved for them one last story to delight and defy them: The Woodcutter And His Children …

My Review of The Woodcutter and His Family

James Joyce lies dying and his family relive their memories of him.

What an intricate and fascinating read The Woodcutter and His Family is. I found myself horrified, entertained, amused and sometimes bewildered as I read.

The story is divided into five sections and each has its own distinct voice. Because of the intricate sentence structure and the lack of speech marks, the narrative is often a stream of consciousness that confused and bewildered me which is exactly what I felt it was meant to do. Not only does it echo Joyce’s own writing, this carefully crafted looseness makes the reader think, makes them go back over sentences to check meaning and makes them realise that words do not always convey true meaning and intention, but can deceive and manipulate. I thought the style was inspirational. There’s frequent expletives and sexual reference but they all add to the colourful tapestry of the prose.

Grief, regret, love, memories and hatred all blend when we consider death and The Woodcutter and his Son provides a frequently beautiful and equally disturbing depiction of a man’s passing. I especially enjoyed Bertha’s story which made me laugh aloud on several occasions as she articulates just what anyone else might think but be afraid to say.  Reading the daughter Beatrice’s section made me very uncomfortable. Her desperate need for the mother she purports to hate is so affecting. So too is Archie’s grief at his father’s passing. The result of these different sections is an emotional and disturbing insight into a man who is only too aware of his own faults.

The section told by Himself and the allegorical story of the woodcutter made me truly reflect on death, on how we live our lives and on our ability to affect others’ lives.

I feel I haven’t quite done justice to The Woodcutter and His Family as a reader. I think I have missed many references that would add even more layers to my understanding and believe the book deserves several close readings to appreciate fully just how intelligently and movingly written it is. It has left me entertained, certainly, but also moved, perplexed and feeling slightly unworthy as a reader. I highly recommend it.

About Frank McGuinness

frank mcguinness

Frank McGuinness is Professor of Creative Writing in University College Dublin. A world-renowned playwright, his first great stage hit was the highly acclaimed Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme. He is also a highly skilled adapter of plays by writers such as Ibsen, Sophocles, Brecht, and writer of several film scripts, including Dancing at Lughnasa, and he has published several anthologies of poetry.

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