Four Letters of Love
Niall Williams
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Buy *Four Letters of Love* online Four Letters of Love
Niall Williams
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
352 pages
Copyright 1997
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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How touched by fate's benevolent hand you feel when you chance across a novel so achingly beautiful as Niall Williams' Four Letters of Love. Williams has authored with his wife, Christine Breen, four previous books about their life in County Clare, Ireland, and his intimate knowledge and love of that country sings out from the pages of his first novel. With prose that ultimately fills the reader with a blinding light of pure joy, Four Letters of Love tells the seemingly disparate stories of two Irish families whose lives have been touched and forever altered by significant moments of grief. The two tales seem to occur in parallel, but are in fact angled almost imperceptibly toward each other. Curled Up With a Good Book When they finally but inevitably converge, the once-quiet power of the novel pours forth with a force that convinces you that your heart truly is the seat of emotion.

William Coughlan, a lanky, balding civil servant, comes home from work one day to shatter his family's quiet, harmonious life with the news that God wants him to paint. Abandoning his career and selling off most of the household goods, William goes off into Ireland's west for the summer to put the Atlantic light to canvas. When he returns, his wife and twelve-year-old son, Nicholas, find no solace in the slashes of color on the unfinished canvasses. A cycle of absence and return is begun. Nicholas' mother takes to bed, her humble vision of domesticity shattered, coming out of her room only when her husband and son are out walking to comfort herself in a whirlwind of cleaning and tidying their nearly empty home. Nicholas finds himself wanting to hate his father but unable to resist the flood of love he feels at the smallest gesture from that gawky man whose being touched by God has irrevocably altered Nicholas' childhood.

Muiris Gore is Master at the one-room school on the Irish island where he raises his family. Abandoned long ago by the poetic muse, he tries to instill pride and passion in his young charges and hitches his hopes to his children. His daughter, Isabel, is a bright young girl, good at her studies and bound one day for university. His son, Sean, is a musical prodigy, able to pick up any instrument and play it as if he always had. One day when Isabel dances on the rocks of the island's shore to Sean's accompaniment, Sean has an unheralded fit that leaves him mute and lame, the music inside him stilled. Isabel feels crushing guilt that Sean's "accident" is somehow her fault. With her parents' dreams now fully on her shoulders, Isabel leaves for the mainland to continue her studies.

Tragedy strikes the Coughlan house not once but twice more in the following years. As a young man following in his father's civil servant footsteps, Nicholas is left suddenly bereft of family and momentum. A vision of his father moves Nicholas, now without a job and directionless, to find and buy back his father's one true work of art. Isabel's life turns down a path of disappointment and flawed love, breaking her father's heart and spirit and leaving bitter dregs of resignation in the cup of her mother's life. When the legacies of the Coughlan and Gore families finally come together, miracles of healing, hope and love will become possible, proof that there is a design, an unfathomable reason, to the workings of the world.

Four Letters of Love has received heartfelt praise from all sides in the literary world. To read it is to be moved by a sense of destiny and optimism. In a world where grief, loss and pain seem to be the rule, Four Letters of Love lets us believe that love has the power to make everything better.

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