New Island, €14.99
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.