Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2023. In his beautiful, haunting novel, in which nothing is quite what it seems, Sebastian Barry explores what we live through, what we live with, and what may survive of us

Recently retired policeman Tom Kettle is settling into the quiet of his new home, a lean-to annexed to a Victorian Castle overlooking the Irish Sea. For months he has barely seen a soul, catching only glimpses of his eccentric landlord and a nervous young mother who has moved in next door.  

Occasionally, fond memories of the past return - of his family, his beloved wife June and their two children. But when two former colleagues turn up at his door with questions about a decades-old case, one which Tom never quite came to terms with, he finds himself pulled into the darkest currents of his past. 

The Booker Prize 2023
Published by
Faber & Faber
Publication date

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Sebastian Barry

Sebastian Barry

About the Author

Sebastian Barry is one of a small group of authors to have been nominated for the Booker Prize five times
More about Sebastian Barry

Sebastian Barry on writing Old God's Time

‘I try to set aside a year just for reading and dreaming – that peculiar dreaming of writers. Then a year to write the book, and then a year to reconsider, edit, make raids on the text as it were. Like Billy the Kid. Pat Garrett would be the doubts and worries (quite important, if dangerous). I wait for the book essentially and once it starts, I try to give it its head, as judiciously as possible, hoping it won’t go and gallop off a cliff.

‘I write in what was once the rector’s study in an old rectory. It was also called the Bee Room, because gear for bee-keeping was kept in there. It has a good small stove, bookcases made by a genius carpenter I know (who accidentally gave me the title for this book), and since we came here it was been twice painted by me on the stern orders of my wife, Ali. The curtains have pineapples on them for some reason. An old post-office desk has seen everything written on it since 1986. Outside is Ali’s brilliant planting in the garden, but I face the wall to work.’

Read the full interview here.

Old God's Time by Sebastian Barry

What the judges said

‘Barry brilliantly evokes the distorting effect of trauma on memory as we enter an easy companionship with his gentle, funny protagonist. Both the legacy of historic child abuse in Ireland and the enduring power of love are sensitively explored in this compassionate and quietly furious book.’

What the critics said

Adam Begley, The Atlantic

‘His new novel, Old God’s Time, his ninth, is a beautiful, tragic book about an “old policeman with a buckled heart” who’s assailed at great length and yet enjoys streaks of jubilance, even after repeated assaults. I find the book powerful enough to want to bang the drum and say as loudly and clearly as I can that Barry ought to be widely read and revered – he ought to be a laureate for fiction everywhere.’

Susie Boyt, The Financial Times

‘This new work carries a similar sense of linking arms with you, as you settle down, braced both for startling pleasures and acutely drawn, unimaginable suffering; but in Old God’s Time Barry situates ambiguity squarely as the novel’s subject, its heart, perhaps its hero.’

Michael Schaub, NPR

Old God’s Time is a powerful, painful novel, another excellent offering from Barry, who is clearly one of the best Irish writers working today. It’s also a book suffused with a deep moral anger that refuses to let go of the crimes that destroyed the lives of so many. “People endured horrors, and then they couldn’t talk about them,” as Tom observes. “The real stories of the world were bedded in silence. The mortar was silence and the walls were sometimes impregnable.’

New York Times Book Review

‘The cruelty of religion in Ireland is a central concern of the novel, though one that sadly shocks us less than it would have once. Barry writes about this with compassion and quiet rage… the novel, for all its grimness, can be very funny.’

Jacob Brogan, The Washington Post

‘The story plays out in ways that repeatedly surprise, but its twists and turns are less important than its steady emotional beats, which elegantly braid the long work of mourning to the mere fact of love. As always, Barry is a prose stylist of near-miraculous skill, turning out crystalline sentence after crystalline sentence without ever leaving or betraying his protagonist’s perspective. His is an aphoristic imagination, and almost every chapter ends with a revelatory pirouette.’

Old God's Time by Sebastian Barry

Other nominated books by Sebastian Barry

Days Without End
On Canaan's Side
The Secret Scripture
A Long Long Way