Josh Ritter's records are regulation issue for plenty of college kids, but in a perfect world his debut novel would loom large in the lives of younger students too. Oh to have had this book on the Leaving or Junior Cert course back in the day - and not just because it's short.

Beautifully written, Bright's Passage shows Ritter to be an author who can bring any reader from 14 up into the best and worst of this world, juxtaposing strength with weakness and reminding them of what's truly precious in life - and on the page.

The hero is Henry Bright, a just-widowed World War I veteran who must bring his newborn son, a gutsy goat and a back-answering horse who's really an angel through the forests of West Virginia to safety. The child's hate-filled grandfather, two ne'er-do-well uncles and a very big fire are somewhere behind the quartet...

Alternating between the battlefields of France and the wilds of Appalachia, every chapter here offers stunning descriptions and pages begging to be re-read. Whether it's lines like "the last portion of sunlight was being sopped up by the low moon, and the stars were beginning to show on the plate beneath"; or "at times star shells would illuminate the ground, as if the moon were making bayonet lunges at the earth", Ritter's mix of grace and grit turns Bright's Passage into a special kind of fact-based fantasy, where luck and destiny have the same magnitude.

Never mind about his next album, what about the follow-up to this?

Harry Guerin