By Douglas Thompson (Acair Ltd.; 2014)
An assured and compelling fictional account of “Scotland’s Nostradamus” Coinneach Odhar, a 17th Century man who allegedly possessed telekinetic powers that allowed him to see into the future. As this novel tells it, Coinneach foresaw quite a few assorted disasters, as well as the devastation of World War II and his own demise.
The author is Douglas Thompson, whose warped ecological chiller SYLVOW was one of my favorite reads of 2010. Thompson relates Odhar’s tale in a highly poetic manner that emphasizes the burnished landscape, suggesting that Coinneach’s story is forever etched in the rocks, soil and sea of Scotland. Yet the book is also lively and eminently readable.
As related here, Coinneach’s story begins with an old mystic who rapes his mother the day after her wedding. The mystic is killed but his powers live on in Coinneach, who as a child is visited by spectral friends that (in the manner of THE SHINING’S Tony) impart bits of pertinent information about the people and landscapes around him. Coinneach grows into a unerringly virtuous and principled man whose “talents” aren’t without negative connotations, foremost among them the fact that the future occurrences Coinneach foresees cannot be altered in any way.
Coinneach’s visions naturally gain him widespread fame and important political connections. This leads to trouble, alas, when Coinneach reveals some better-left-unsaid information, and his story increasingly comes to resemble that of a certain other, much older supernaturally endowed individual who was sacrificed for his convictions.
In an afterward the author makes it clear that his account, historically based though it may be, is not to be taken as gospel. THE BRAHAN SEER is admittedly comprised as much of legend as it is historical fact, along with a goodly amount of outright fiction. Douglas Thompson further concedes that Coinneach Odhar may not have actually existed, or could be an amalgamation of more than one person. Yet I can’t imagine a better fictional treatment of this enigmatic figure, in a book that works as good historical fiction and good fiction, period.