Perpetually luckless Irishman JJ O'Malley unexpectedly becomes an international celebrity when he volunteers for the "Somnos Project", a "penal experiment" to conduct research on the use of "deep coma as a future option in the EU prison system." O'Malley, since he lacks a prison record, serves as the experiment's control, joining four convicted men hooked up to monitors on a ship docked in the harbor of Killary in western Ireland, an inlet "suffused with ineffable sadness." Irish novelist McCormack (Getting it in the Head) employs the perspectives of five pivotal characters to recount O'Malley's life. An adoptee raised by a single father in rural Ireland, he's potentially a genius, yet sees himself untethered in the universe. After a tragic incident, O'Malley volunteers for the project and his loved ones struggle to understand his decision and the events that led to it. McCormack's substantial footnotes run in parallel to the narrative, serving as a primer on the nature of the experiment and helping progress the story in the present while the characters' accounts shed light on the subject's past. Subtle but haunting storytelling mixes with an insightful examination into the ethics of the penal system to produce an unusual and unforgettable read. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/11/2013 Release date: 03/01/2013 Genre: Fiction
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