My enormous thanks to David Borrowdale at Reflex Press for a copy of Straw Gods by Tom O’Brien in return for an honest review. I don’t read enough novellas or flash fiction and Straw Gods is the perfect way to combine the two!
Straw Gods is available for purchase here.
A straw man hung above my door like a ward of protection. Really it was a lure to charm my dead husband back. But it, like my other delusions and lies, drew lightning.
Ten years after the death of her husband, Rosa struggles to move on and takes solace in rituals and superstition. Sol, a young ﬁsherman, braves the sea to prove himself to an absent father. As a storm rips through the small community, disaster lays bare old secrets. Rosa and Sol’s lives tangle in tragic circumstances, forcing them to face the truth about themselves and the ones they loved.
Straw Godsis the debut novella-in-ﬂash from Tom O’Brien, a heart-wrenching drama both moving and exhilarating, perceptively exploring the effects of grief and the lasting bonds of family and friendship.
My Review of Straw Gods
39 flash fictions making a complete narrative.
If I said I had no intention of reading Straw Gods when I did, but I thought I’d look at the first entry and was so incredibly moved and mesmerised by Tom O’Brien’s writing that I simply couldn’t tear myself away until I had consumed it all – twice – you’ll understand what a special book Straw Gods is. It is absolutely magnificent and will be heading straight onto my books of the year list for 2021.
The intensity of emotion is Straw Gods is physical. I could feel Rosa’s grief as acutely as if it were my own. And yet Straw Gods is not a depressing read despite the visceral depth of feeling. Tom O’Brien articulates so beautifully how grief can affect us, through his poetic and enchanting writing, that he brings comfort to the reader in knowing others have experienced such feelings too. Reading Straw Gods is cathartic as much as it is captivating.
Each of the individually titled chapters or flash fictions works as a complete piece that can be appreciated alone, but added together into the riveting, fast paced narrative Tom O’Brien provides in Straw Gods, they become breath-taking. There were moments when I gasped aloud as read. I wept too – not just for Rosa and Sol, but for myself and all those who’ve encountered grief in their lives. This really is a book that delivers far more than might be expected. I thought of each entry a bit like a diamond that sparkles and gleams perfectly well alone, but when added to all the other pieces, becomes dazzling so that I could not tear myself away from Tom O’Brien’s words.
Rosa is such a vivid character that I felt less that I was reading about her and more that I was experiencing every nuance of emotion she experiences. This effect is achieved through her compelling first person voice. Bordering insanity in her grief, Rosa distils grief into behaviours and feelings any reader will relate to and this is surprisingly comforting. I loved the way she reaches her personal nadir but is not entirely defeated.
Obviously grief is a major theme in Straw Gods, but there is so much more besides woven into the writing. Themes of marriage, family, self-deception, community, friendship, nature and superstition are just few aspects of this glorious text that hook the reader.
I’m finding it difficult to convey how wonderful I think Straw Gods is, but I would say please don’t let it be a quiet book that few read. Tom O’Brien’s exquisite skill needs lauding from the rooftops. In this slim volume is the essence of humanity, of grief, of honesty and of hope. Straw Gods is utterly fantastic and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
About Tom O’Brien
Tom O’Brien is an Irish writer living in London. Having had film scripts optioned and produced he moved across to prose where he’s been widely published and anthologised in print and online. He’s been long and shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award, Ellipsis Zine Flash Collection Competition and the Colm Tóibín Short Story Award, amongst others.