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Keith Donohue – Angels of Destruction

June 16, 2009

71. Angels of Destruction by Keith Donohue (2009)

Length: 347 pages

Genre: General Fiction with a hefty splash of magical realism

Started: 12 June 2009
Finished: 14 June 2009

Angels of Destruction was published by Shaye Areheart Books on 03 March 2009; you can order a copy from Amazon here.

Where did it come from? The publishers.
Why do I have it? Because I thought Donohue’s first book, The Stolen Child was fascinating, and I wanted to see what he’d done for his sophomore effort.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 10 April 2009.
Verdict? Probable keeper; I can see myself wanting to revisit this book in a few years.

A strange little girl
fills a hole in Margaret’s heart.
Who is she really?

Summary: When the mysterious nine-year-old Norah knocks on widow Margaret Quinn’s door in the middle of a cold, snowy night, Margaret accepts her into her house without a second thought. Margaret is still grieving over the loss of her daughter Erica, who ten years previously ran away with her boyfriend, intent on joining the revolutionary group Angels of Destruction. Norah quietly steps into the center of Margaret’s grief, and takes on the role of Margaret’s granddaughter – a link to the daughter she believes is gone forever. But while it’s clear that Norah is no ordinary child, it’s less clear who – or what – she really is, what her purpose is, and how – or even if – she’s connected to the missing Erica.

Review: Angels of Destruction, as a book, feels quite a lot like its main character, Norah: mysterious, slightly ethereal, and filled with an air of sadness and loneliness, but still shot through with hope. The writing, too, is all of those things; even apart from the story they’re telling, Donohue somehow manages to fill the words themselves with a sense of loneliness and longing. At the end, I’m not sure that I’ve entirely wrapped my head around the message and moral of the story, and there are some issues of plotting that I had problems with, but the writing itself was powerful; mesmerizing and haunting enough that after I finished I had to get up and take a walk for an hour just to ground myself again. This is a book to be read on a cold and blustery November evening, or maybe a gray and slushy February day, not a sunny June afternoon.

“A silent laugh flared in her chest and rippled through her throat and echoed in her brain. The idea of forever seemed an impossibility, like love itself, or finding your way ashore from the middle of an ocean, or returning to earth after being abandoned at the top of the sky, blue as the cup resting in her hands.”

My reaction to Angels of Destruction is more or less the same as my response to Donohue’s first book, The Stolen Child. The plotting was somewhat strange, some characters (particularly Paul, Margaret’s husband/Erica’s father) were underdeveloped, and enough threads were left unresolved and ambiguous to keep it from being a truly satisfying read. However, for years after finishing The Stolen Child, I would find myself thinking about it at odd moments, and Angels of Destruction feels like it’s going to linger in my head, taunting me with its mysteries and open-ended theologies for years to come. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Hard to say. It’s an interesting story, and gorgeously written, but not exactly an easy or fun read. I think it will probably be enjoyed the most by readers of literary fiction who don’t mind a fair bit of magical realism and a number of ambiguous story elements.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Keith Donohue’s Blog

Other Reviews: Bookopolis, Jenn’s Bookshelf, BookNAround
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: She heard the fist tap again, tentative and small.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 10: “When she was three, Erica developed what Margaret feared were petechiae along the concave notch of her collerbone, a necklace of bloodpricks, and in her panic Margaret ran through all the thromboembolic dangers, only to be laughed at when her doctor husband diagnosed mild impetigo.” – A small purplish spot on a body surface, such as the skin or a mucous membrane, caused by a minute hemorrhage
  • p. 54: “At the window, Margaret kept watch through the crepuscular light, but saw only the blankets of snow rippling, falling so thickly and rapidly that the children’s footprints had filled to shallow dents in the swale.” – a valleylike intersection of two slopes in a piece of land.
  • p. 214: “In the front seat of the Torino, Wiley popped out the cylinder and inserted a moonclip with six rounds and tucked the Colt revolved inside his jacket.” – ring-shaped or stellate piece of metal designed to hold a full cylinder of ammunition for a revolver (generally six rounds) together as a unit.

**All quotes are from and advanced copy and may not reflect the final published text.**

9 Comments leave one →
  1. June 16, 2009 8:57 am

    Hmm, the book sounds very interesting, but I’m not sure it’s for me. Great review.

  2. thekoolaidmom permalink
    June 16, 2009 3:20 pm

    Impressive review. I love the way you’ve organized it. I might be ashamed to admit to how long some of my books have been on Mt. TBR, lol.

  3. June 16, 2009 3:37 pm

    I like magical realism but not necessarily horribly sad or gratuitous violence towards kids and animals. Is there any of that? Because it sounds a bit fascinating.

  4. June 16, 2009 3:45 pm

    bermudaonion – I had a really hard time pinning this book down; it’s got elements of magical realism but it reads more like literary fiction, if that makes sense.

    thekoolaidmom – What’s embarassing is that despite how long some books have been on my TBR pile, most of the ones I’ve been reading/reviewing are only a few months old!

    Carrie – Nope, no violence towards kids or animals, and in general, only one real scene of violence. It’s not horribly sad, either – it’s actually a fairly upbeat/hopeful story, while at the same time sort of *feeling* sad, if that makes sense. Heh, I am not describing this well at all. In any case, I think you’d probably like it, and it’s definitely worth checking out.

  5. June 18, 2009 11:55 am

    Oh, this looks like a great one and I love the cover.

    Every once in a while, I enjoy ethereal melancholic stories. From the sounds of it, this may be it. I’m just a bit worried about the ambiguity.

    Thanks for the review.

  6. June 22, 2009 10:30 am

    Ann-Kat – I think “ethereal” and “melancholic” are two excellent words to describe this book. If you’re in the mood, I’d definitely check this one out – it’s not really all *that* ambiguous, just enough so that you can draw your own interpretations about what really happened.

  7. June 22, 2009 10:26 pm

    I really want to read this, but I still haven’t even cracked the spine. I loved his first book…

  8. June 23, 2009 10:25 am

    Kailana – I didn’t *love* his first book, but I did find it fascinating… and this one still sat around unopened for way longer than I usually leave my ARCs. Weird.

  9. August 10, 2009 12:23 pm

    I just finished this book, and I think you’ve described it very well. I didn’t love, love the plotting or the characters, but the writing’s incredible. I think what Donohue really excels at is setting and maintaining a certain tone. Everything about his sentence, paragraph and scene construction echoes the tone, making even ordinary events a little eerie.

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