Tag Archives: Fiction

The Woman Not the Name


The Woman Not The Name tells the story of Will Ferris, a songwriter and amateur boxer from Cork. He’s only twenty-one, but he has a secret past for which he has already paid a heavy price.

In late 2004 Will starts a weekly gig in a Dublin pub and has a brief fling with a promiscuous lawyer in the Attorney General’s office, with disastrous consequences. Two of Will’s new friends grow to hate him. One is a junior civil servant in the Department of Finance; the other a talented brute who teaches painting at the National College of Art and Design.

But Will also has admirers: a quick-witted window dresser from the Brown Thomas department store; the manager of a boy-band; and a final-year medical student, who is extraordinary because she doesn’t drink or do drugs. Will is also a success professionally: within months he’s famous enough to appear on the Late Late Show, Ireland’s premier talk-show.

The novel culminates in a mid-summer birthday party on the Vico Road in Dalkey and a murder trial at the Central Criminal Court, illustrated with photographs and a transcript of the evidence of an eye-witness.

Part tragedy, part farce, part love story, The Woman Not The Name is an intricately plotted novel of modern manners and the myth of Orpheus.

ISBN: 9780956837929
Extent/format: 342 pages paperback
Price: €10.00
Publication: Octber 2013
Distribution: Argosy Libraries and Eason Wholesale
Robert Towers

Trade distributors Argosy Libraries 01-823 9500 and sales@argosybooks.ie

The Winner of Sorrow

The Winner of Sorrow
The Winner of Sorrow

Brian Lynch
Published October 2005
New Island Books
PRICE: €11.99

ISBN: 9781905494255
Dalkey Archive, $14.95
ISBN: 978-1-56478-521-3

The Winner of Sorrow can be ordered from New Island Books.

The Winner of Sorrow, a novel about the poet William Cowper (1731-1800), was published in 2005 by New Island Books, Dublin and by the Dalkey Archive Press, Illinois, in 2009. It was shortlisted for the Hughes & Hughes Novel of the Year Award,.

Publishers Weekly
The Winner of Sorrow Brian Lynch. Dalkey Archive, $14.95 paper (364p) ISBN

Irish poet and filmmaker Lynch’s first novel is an engaging fictional
account of the life of the little-remembered 18th-century English poet
William Cowper. Told primarily in flashback, Lynch introduces Cowper as an old man, plagued by self-loathing, sickness and hallucinations. His
formative years are marked by the death of his mother and early inclinations
toward poetry, ‘contemplating the taste of words.’ Along with the major
figures in Cowper’s life‹the charismatic Rev. John Newton, real-life author
of ‘Amazing Grace’; John Johnson, Cowper’s young cousin; and Mary Unwin, the love of his life, Lynch also lends Dickensian detail to minor characters, using them skillfully to provide an orbiting view. Lynch takes a serial approach, managing to take readers by surprise in every short chapter, whether terrifying (as in the height of Cowper’s hallucinations) or hilarious (‘[p]oetry and puking were hardly ideal companions’). This curious novel captures the sad poet from all angles, reimagining his life in a
gracefully sprawling epic.

Library Journal, December 2008

Published in Ireland in 2005, this justly praised novel imagines the
troubled life of 18th-century English poet William Cowper. Along with
Christopher Smart and John Clare, Cowper is often read as one of the
great eccentrics in English literature. Lynch brilliantly reconsiders
Cowper’s life in terms that raise questions about the sympathies binding sanity and creativity, devotion and damnation, as well as the emotional and spiritual austerities and excesses that alternately inspire and inhibit creativity and purpose. Lynch’s portrayal of the poet, however, is neither academic nor sentimental. Rather, he evokes Cowper’s complex interior and exterior realities with a cool affection and humor that ultimately preserve his essential humanity. Lynch is a practiced and celebrated author in many genres – poetry, drama, and film, among them- and this work is a remarkable testament to his gifts as a storyteller as well as his mastery of language. This novel about a largely forgotten English poet by an Irish writer in his prime is highly recommended.
J.G.Matthews, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman

‘The Winner of Sorrow
By Susan Salter Reynolds
February 8, 2009 LA Times
And Newsday March 3

William Cowper, born in England in 1731, wrote hymns and poems inspired by his
love of nature and his devotion to evangelical Christianity. Cowper suffered
from depression all his life; he tried several times to commit suicide. Brian
Lynch’s novel cleaves closely to the life of the forgotten poet, unlucky in love
and convinced that eternal damnation awaited him. Lynch’s dark humor saves
Cowper from another form of the endless afterlife: the heavy legacy of the
little-read, suicidal poet. Cowper, Lynch writes by way of an introduction, “was
sure that he had always been too contemptible to be loved by any living
creature, but that loving him had destroyed the lives of four women, three wild
hares and a linnet.” Lynch gives us the lovable Cowper, no easy feat. He
resurrects the poet’s immortality, makes him modern in his abject vulnerability.

Powells.com Books online

A fictional imagining of the gentle but troubled zealot William
Cowper–best known as a precursor to Romantics such as Wordsworth and
Burns–Brian Lynch’s The Winner of Sorrow brings to life the mind and
times of an eighteenth-century poet. Intense and exhilerating, this is
literary fiction at its finest–the reader will be hard-pressed not to
rush ahead to see what happens next. Yet you’ll want to savor every word
as Lynch traces Cowper’s tragic descent into madness, which is presented
matter-of-factly so that the novel is not sentimental but austere, not
precious but serious, and yet, remarkably, lively, sensuous, and blackly

Quarterly Conversation
Review by Rebecca Hussey

William Cowper, an 18th-century British poet not widely read today outside of
classrooms, lingers in our cultural memory as the author of some still-popular
hymns and a collection of poems that include “The Castaway” and “The Task.” We
may remember such lines as “Oh for a closer walk with God” and “God moves in a
mysterious way,” even if we probably don’t remember Cowper as their author. But,
he was beloved during and shortly after his time, known as a poet who cared
deeply for animals and the natural world, and one who was sensitive to the
plight of the poor.
In The Winner of Sorrow, originally published in Ireland in 2005 and
recently released Stateside by Dalkey Archive Press, poet Brian Lynch offers a
fictional retelling of Cowper’s life. The novel is, obviously, historical
fiction, and yet it doesn’t feel like it, at least when compared to the kind of
historical novel that packs in period detail. Rather, Winner’s terrain is more
interior: Cowper is a fascinating subject for a psychological study, and, rather
than in describing Cowper’s material circumstances, Lynch’s interest lies in
portraying the depths of Cowper’s consciousness through recurring images and
dreams. Though he focuses tightly on Cowper, Lynch nonetheless captures the
feeling of the man’s era (Cowper lived from 1731 to 1800); he does it through
the characters themselves, utilizing thoughts, conversations, and letters that
evoke an 18th-century sensibility.
Lynch opens the novel with Cowper as an old man, moving in and out of insanity
and living with a young relative and a female caretaker (one of many
mother-substitutes Lynch will discover in Cowper’s life). From here, flashbacks
take us to scenes from his childhood, and we move back and forth between young
and old Cowper in a series of abrupt shifts.
The novel’s early chapters weave a tapestry of Cowper’s troubled consciousness
that then sets up and explains the middle section of the novel—Cowper’s adult
life—where we see how his childhood wounds manifest themselves in maturity. This
middle section is told in a more straightforward, chronological manner, but it
still evidences some of the first section’s formal difficulty: the short
chapters often introduce new material abruptly, jarring readers and forcing them
to situate the narrative again and again. Eventually, a final section returns
the story to the beginning: Cowper as an old man taking stock of his life.
Lynch’s frequent jumps in time and scene require careful attention, but the
attention is well-paid, as the juxtapositions reveal the recurring images and
deep-seated patterns of Cowper’s life and offer the satisfaction of piecing
together an identity and understanding the poet’s mind.
And what a mind it is: Cowper is a psychoanalyst’s dream. His mother dies in
childbirth when he is six, and he never recovers from the loss, spending the
rest of his life searching for replacement figures (which he is able to find in
abundance). In addition to the wound left by his lost mother, Cowper is
impotent: in a schoolyard bullying scene, two boys yank down his pants,
revealing a penis “no bigger than a snail’s foot.” Afterward, a “secret voice”
in his head chants, “I am a different boy, I am a different boy.”
It is a scarring experience, one that leaves him feeling isolated and
inadequate. Snails begin to haunt Cowper, appearing in life and in dreams as
images of sexuality and of death. When the young Cowper finds a snail in the eye
socket of a skull, he picks it up and “he saw what the skull saw, and he
thought, This is death, and this will happen to everyone else, but of all the
people in the world, I, William Cowper, I alone am fated not to die.” This hope
for immortality is soon replaced by an obsession with death and fear of sex,
both of which Cowper continually approaches, only to shy away from.
At the age of 32 he has his first brush with his own death: Cowper suffers a
mental breakdown, attempts suicide several times, and retreats to an asylum. In
his convalescence he converts to Evangelicalism and inaugurates a pattern that
continues for the rest of his life: hope in God mixing with despair,
self-loathing and guilt mixing with compassion and love, the conviction that he
is damned to hell mixing with the desire for life. As the very first paragraph
of the novel explains:
William Cowper . . . believed in Christ and his infinite mercy, although he
was also convinced that God hated him personally and was intent on sending him
to hell, soon, for all eternity. That the belief and the conviction
contradicted each other he understood clearly. He understood, too, that he was
completely insane, or rather almost completely, but not quite. In the same
nearly perfect way, he was sure that he had always been too contemptible to be
loved by any living creature, but that loving him had destroyed the lives of
four women, three wild hares and a linnet.
That Cowper places the three wild hares and the linnet on the same footing as
the four women is revealing; those women become the mother figures he craves, as
well as sisters and almost-lovers in a bewildering combination of roles and
relationships, but they never achieve the top place in Cowper’s affections.
Cowper’s wounds make him capable only of an abstract, partial kind of love, and
it’s a testament to his attractive powers that he is continually surrounded by
women who are willing to live with what he could offer. What we see, ultimately,
is a deeply wounded man seeking the only kind of happiness he is capable of.
Cowper feels both gratitude and guilt toward the women who care enough about him
to make sacrifices for his sake. It’s a sad story: though Cowper knows he has
much to answer for, he is powerless to do anything about it.
The Winner of Sorrow goes beyond psychology: it also hints at Cowper’s
importance as a poet, making him into a quintessential late 18th-century figure
in the way his poetic interests turn away from public, social matters and look
to the interior world: “He was making an exploration out of, or rather into, the
ordinary—like Captain Cook, but in reverse.” However, Lynch resists the common
interpretation of Cowper as mere antecedent to the Romantics, instead portraying
him as an important poet in his own right. Near the novel’s end, Cowper receives
an illustrated letter from William Blake (an invention on Lynch’s part) in which
he hails Cowper as “the Son of Albion in the Evening of his Decay” and claims
him as “Your Friend in Milton.” Cowper wants nothing to do with this tribute. He
thinks only that Blake “is obviously a revolutionary, or an agent for the
government, or a plain lunatic, or all three” and later gives his servant
permission to use the letter as lining for a bucket. Cowper does not understand,
and does not wish to understand, why this representative of a new generation of
poets reveres him. This episode, and the novel as a whole, implies that Cowper’s
poetic achievement is important not so much for the way he helped usher in a new
poetic era, but for his unique sensibility: his tormented mix of compassion,
suffering, faith, and uncertainty. It is here that Lynch’s interests in Cowper’s
psychology and his poetry combine: we should read him, the novel implies,
because he shows us the difficult and unlikely conditions from which art can
In the end, perhaps the novel’s central insight is, as one character says,
“Misery usually stands in the way of creation, William, but in your case it
opens the road . . . because you know that composing puts off your being
decomposed.” We are all composing and decomposing every moment of our lives, and
the best we can hope for, like Cowper, is to compose something beautiful, if
only to postpone the moment of decomposition a little longer. The Winner of
Sorrow is itself a success on these terms: a beautiful composition that will
challenge readers and reward them with both a glimpse into a struggling artist’s
life and a contemplation of what it means to “win” at sorrow.
Rebecca Hussey is an assistant professor of English at Norwalk Community College
in Connecticut. She blogs as “Dorothy W.” at Of Books and Bicycles.


While the €10,000 Hughes and Hughes Irish Novel of the Year seemed destined for Banville’s The Sea, this category’s shortlist selection drew deserved attention to one of the finest Irish books of recent years, Brian Lynch’s beautiful novel The Winner of Sorrow, which was published by Irish publisher New Island Books. Based on the life of the 18th-century English poet William Cowper, this graceful and witty narrative is a study of an eccentric genius which makes brilliant use of the respective nuances of Regency social history as well as the darker themes of guilt and psychological tragedy. If Banville always looked the winner, he had worthy competition in Lynch.
From the report of the award ceremony by Eileen Battersby in the Irish Times, March 2, 2006

At once moving, instructive and slyly funny – that rare thing, a recuperation of a poet by a poet.
–John Banville, The Irish Times Books of the Year 2005

One of the finest Irish books of recent years.
–Eileen Battersby, The Irish Times

The Winner of Sorrow is a novel based on the life of the gentle poet, William Cowper – an evocation of his bizarre households and the wider world of late-eighteenth-century England as loving as it is deeply imagined and wholly original. Brian Lynch’s book is a brilliant tragi-comedy, aswirl with contradictory emotions – piety and passion, pity and fear, despair and hope, madness and practicality. Seen from so insightful a perspective.Cowper’s wildly troubled life is a thriller, and the reader is tempted to rush forward with the plot. Can the women who love William heal the wounds caused by loss? Can peace ever descend on his turbulent spirit? At the same time, one reads as slowly as possible, the better to prolong the encounter with a book that satisfies on many levels – that is profoundly serious, but also warm, witty, and very beautiful. – Nuala O Faolain

If you want the low-down and high-down on the delicate, brutal reality of a poet’s life, you must read The Winner of Sorrow. –Paul Durcan,

Beautifully written, poignant, witty and profound. –Clare Boylan,

The Winner of Sorrow is not just a remarkably vivid excursion into the mind of a remarkable poet cut adrift by genius, but also a brilliant re-imagining of an extraordinary age. –Dermot Bolger

A wonderful book.
–Arminta Wallace, Irish Times. Full Review

It is a tribute to Lynch’s achievement that you close the book with the conviction that reading the work of William Cowper is not simply advisable but necessary. – Eamonn Sweeney, The Irish Book Review. Full Review

A wonderful book. –Rachel Andrews, Sunday Tribune. Full Review

A triumph.–Siobhan Hegarty, Sunday Independent. Full Review

A Cowper for our times. –Tony Seward, Cowper and Newton Bulletin Full Review

As you can see, the narrator of this book is witty, urbane with a sense of the ridiculous and how it touches human sadness. Lynch is also an accomplished poet and there is passage after passage here of startling, verbal beauty, never ostentatious, always integrated into the story. –Thomas Kilroy,The Irish Independent Full ReviewHis fictionalisation of the life of William Cowper, an almost forgotten poet, is so momentous that it would certainly have made a very watchable period drama –Katie Moten, RTE.ie Entertainment Full Review

A VIVID PICTURE, by Katie Moten

The Winner of Sorrow
The Winner of Sorrow

Brian Lynch
Published October 11, 2005
New Island Books
ISBN: 9781905494255
PRICE: €11.99

RTE.ie Entertainment – online review
8 December 2005
The Winner of Sorrow by Brian Lynch
New Island.

In his first novel, poet, screenwriter and art critic Brian Lynch takes on the story of William Cowper, an eighteenth century poet and descendant of John Donne, whose genius was plagued by madness.

Having begun life as a screenplay, ‘The Winner of Sorrow’ made the transition to novel form when the BBC passed on the chance to film it. This history may explain the book’s scene–like chapters and its fluid narrative.

Lynch guides the reader through Cowper’s childhood and early adulthood as a lawyer in the Inner Temple smoothly, and quite quickly, depicting an unfulfilled romance with his cousin Theadora and the first signs of his mental instability.

More attention is paid to the time Cowper spent with the Unwin family, particularly Mary Unwin. She was the widow of a priest, to whom he was briefly engaged and he remained devoted to her for the rest of her life, despite opposition from his family and hers. His battle with insanity is explored in a very vivid way, using paintings to visualise how his demons oppressed him. Part of the mastery of Lynch’s story lies in the imagery he uses to show us the darkness of Cowper’s troubled mind.

Anyone who knows their Jane Austen will have read the name Cowper, but what Lynch does here is to give us a vivid picture of the man. His fictionalisation of the life of William Cowper, an almost forgotten poet, is so momentous that it would certainly have made a very watchable period drama.

Katie Moten

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The Winner of Sorrow
The Winner of Sorrow

Brian Lynch
Published October 11, 2005
New Island Books
ISBN: 9781905494255
PRICE: €11.99

The Irish Independent
Saturday 22 October 2005
by Thomas Kilroy

Brian Lynch is an exceptional Irish writer. Not only because of the quality of his writing but because he stands outside the circuit of crude marketing and public posturing by writers now required, apparently, to sell books.

This beautifully written novel is about the English eighteenth century poet and lunatic William Cowper. But don’t stop reading at this point. This is one of those rare books that creates an unfamiliar world and then draws the reader into it.

Cowper is best know as a precursor of the Romantic poets Wordsworth and Burns. Some of his lines (‘Variety is the spice of life,’ ‘God made the country, and man made the town’) have passed into the common vernacular. He was a strange mixture of suicidal suffering and writing of pure, elegant simplicity. Brian Lynch captures this mix wonderfully well.

Although he clearly couldn’t function in the world Cowper managed to survive, with a body servant, Sam, and little obvious source of income, through various abodes in provincial England. His real journey, though, was internal through his reading and writing and all of this is brought fully to life by Lynch. The external life is here, too, in the rich detail of the book with its mastery of eighteenth centry English customs and landscape, food, medicine, prosody and evangelicanism.

Cowper also attracted the support of several women, in particular, two widows, Mrs. Unwin and Lady Anna Austen. Clearly impotent, he nevertheless generated this nest of turbulent sexuality around himelf. This sad sexual comedy is the centrepiece of the novel and the characterization of the two women, one solid, the other mercurial, is particularly sharp.

And what about Cowper himself? It’s extremely difficult to bring an artist to life in fiction, to make the connection between the ordinary and the art. Not only does Lynch do this, he brings the whole complex of contradictions in Cowper into view. The peculiar stubborness of a shy man, the kind of control over women which a passive man can exert, the clear bell-like voice of poetry from a man with monstrous voices in his own head. Cowper gave these voices grim names, like the Mocker, the Judge, the Accuser.

This terrifying inner life is balanced by the comic sense with which Cowper faced most things around him, including his ladies. This, too, is caught by Brian Lynch. The vision isn’t too far away from Beckett. ‘Sometimes he thanked God he was mad – you could laugh out loud and not have to explain yourself’.

Perhaps the sexual shenanigans, or lack of them, are given even more force by the way in which Lynch creates the sensuality of life around Cowper, to which the poet was, indeed, responsive. In the middle of the heated battle for possession of him by the ladies, ‘as far as the act of connection was concerned, Cowper had only ever reached the point of being a calf butting its mother for milk.’

As you can see, the narrator of this book is witty, urbane with a sense of the ridiculous and how it touches human sadness. Lynch is also an accomplished poet and there is passage after passage here of startling, verbal beauty, never ostentatious, always integrated into the story.

And what about that story? There will be readers, I think, who will miss the typical plotting of a novel. But Lynch is after something more natural, the casual rhythm of how time passes, full of accidental shifts, some of them contrived by busybodies. The opening chapters, too, present challenges to the reader. They start with Cowper in old age but with a series of rapid, unsignalled references to the past. Indeed, some of the opening is only fully explained later on. Just stay with it.

Thomas Kilroy’s most recent play Henry opened September 2005 in the US to critical acclaim.


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‘When snatched from all effectual aid, we perish, each alone’, by Siobhan Hegarty

The Winner of Sorrow
The Winner of Sorrow
Brian Lynch
Published October 11, 2005
New Island Books
ISBN: 9781905494255
PRICE: €11.99

The Sunday Independent
Sunday January 08 2006
‘When snatched from all effectual aid, we perish, each alone’
by Siobhan Hegarty

IN The Winner of Sorrow, an extraordinary excursion into the mind of an 18th-Century English poet, author Brian Lynch sets himself a threefold challenge, each part as great as the next.

First and foremost, Lynch endeavours to breathe life back into the lost legend that is William Cowper, a literary figure who has been all but forgotten. Second, he attempts to recreate the world and social mores of Cowper’s long-dead era. Lynch’s third and final goal is to give an insight into the life, loves, writing and sporadic madness of this eccentric genius. William Cowper (1731- 1800) was the most acclaimed poet of his day. During his lifetime, he counted among his admirers such literary giants as Jane Austen, William Blake and Wordsworth.

Cowper lived the privileged life of a lawyer in the House of Lords before he suffered a breakdown, an event which radically altered the course of his life. After becoming ill, he fled London and, obsessed with suicide, became reclusive, taking refuge in poetry, women, letter-writing, religion and gardening. And this is where we catch up with him. The book opens with him holed up in the little village of Dereham in Norfolk where he “rarely left his lodgings”. Lynch’s portrait of Cowper is his finest achievement as he succeeds in bringing the legend that is Cowper back to life so vividly you could reach out and touch him.

The poet’s battle with mental illness is chronicled in a remarkably matter-of-fact way: “Of all the voices, the one he feared the most was the Grumbler’s . . . the others, the Accuser, the Judge, the Director and the Mocker, spoke with men’s voices.”

And his deterioration is charted without flinching:

“After Mary’s secret burial, not only had the voices returned, many more of them than before, but the ghosts that owned them were visible even in daylight, although, as they were invariably hooded, veiled and cloaked, they were faceless.” The author also rises superbly to his second challenge, to re-imagine Britain during the early 18th Century. The book is also full of social comedy, and it is this humour that brings the age alive, and also adds to the reader’s pleasure.

Lynch often pokes fun at his characters: “There were times when Hayley could talk sense, but since they required the coincidence of his having both a crushing hangover and a clear avenue of escape from trouble, such times were infrequent.” Lynch’s third and final challenge, to give an insight in Cowper’s inner life, is also risen to with finesse. How the poems come from this tortured soul is drawn in bright colours, and it transports us to the secret place from where the poetry is wrought. Touching this hub is Lynch’s goal, and he succeeds masterfully, giving a rare insight into how raw inspiration is translated into poetry.

Because of the richness of detail, it is difficult for the reader to keep in mind that this is not a biography of the poet, but is, in fact, a vividly imagined novel. The author used various devices in his writing, with works of art used throughout the book, usually to set the scene. His characterisation is also a strong point, with all his characters drawn mercilessly, and as a result ringing true.

Lynch rises superbly to all three of the challenges he sets himself, producing a novel that is both original and remarkably beautifully written. The Winner of Sorrow is a triumph.

Now, let the great William Cowper himself – who, thanks to Brian Lynch, now lives on in splendid technicolour – have the last word:

‘No voice divine the storm allayed,
No light propitious shone,
When, snatched from all effectual aid,
We perish, each, alone;
But I, beneath a rougher Sea,
And whelmed in deeper gulphs than he.’

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