The Gospel of Orla makes for a reading experience like no other. Packed full with humour, wit and heart-pulling lyricism, Eoghan Walls masterfully draws the reader into the mind of fourteen year old Orla. With respect and admiration, he artfully inhabits and examines the inner workings of an adolescent — one who, caught between child and adult, experiences very real emotions. The Gospel of Orla is a force to be reckoned with, so we are thrilled to announce it as this month’s Book of the Month.
After losing her mother to cancer, Orla’s dad begins to drink the days away while also desperately trying to keep the family together. But Orla is struggling — not that she cares to admit it, even to herself. Sometimes acting as caregiver to her baby sister while acting out in school, she battles with a teenage rebellion to run, and her premature sense of duty.
The story opens with a getaway attempt: Orla is going to cycle to Liverpool, ferry to Belfast, and then travel onwards to her aunt’s house, near where her mother is buried. But something stops her: Jesus Christ himself. Yes, you read that right. But don’t roll your eyes; this debut novel is not an attempt at conversion and it never reads as preaching. Rather, it is a novel filled with fascinating theological arguments that conveys the need to look within when faced with the depths of grief.
Withdrawn at school, missing the mysterious Jamie who is suspended, and dabbling in shoplifting, Orla puts on a tough exterior as she displaces the source of her pain: in an attempt at running away from home, she is really running away from the truth of how she feels. She is reluctant to admit the grief she is suffering, but when she discovers that the man who calls himself Jesus can bring dead animals back to life, she invites him on her journey to Ireland with the hope that he can perform the same miracle on her mother.
As a Northern Irish poet, Walls uses his expertise to create a stream-of-consciousness rhythm that manages to mesmerise the reader into both a challenging and effortless read. Orla’s snarky thoughts are dotted throughout the narrative, which will have you wanting to shake the protagonist and give her a hug all at once. Orla’s thoughts are constantly at odds with her actions, and what excels at profoundly moving the reader are the words left unwritten: the silence in her father’s eyes as he tells Orla he loves her; her unflinching care for her baby sister; eating lunch in the school bathroom alone. It all draws on an innate compassion within the reader, as the need to pretend to be fine whilst going through trauma or pain is something anyone can relate to.
A novel that will speak to both adults and teens, The Gospel of Orla is a book that readers will not be able to put down, and never be able to forget. For fans of Eimear McBride, Elaine Feeney, and Claire Keegan, with a touch of Derry Girls humour, this book is sure to be a hit. I cannot wait to see what comes next from Eoghan Walls.
“The Gospel of Orla is written with immense control and precision so that the voice of the protagonist emerges as alive, individual and memorable. Eoghan Walls manages to make every single emotion Orla feels—every thought, response and action—utterly convincing and fresh and original.”Colm Tóibín, author of Brooklyn and The Magician
“A weird and original tale.”Financial Times
“The Gospel of Orla is an astonishing feat of characterization and storytelling. The prose is both earthy and sparkling, and the story — equal parts bravado and vulnerability — is told with both wit and tenderness. Everyone should read this.”Jenn Ashworth, author of Ghosted
“A melancholy, funny, and magical coming-of-age story, The Gospel of Orla is glorious, wise, and totally weird. I loved it.”Annie Hartnett, author of Unlikely Animals
“Eoghan Walls writes with humour, inventiveness and irreverence in The Gospel of Orla. Its wholly convincing adolescent lead is neither hero, anti-hero, nor villain. The people she encounters are neither saints nor sinners, however we might mistake them for the same. This novel is exactly the sort of searching, truth-troubling story that Orla needs to read, that would surely stay with her.”Caoilinn Hughes, author of Wild Laughter and Orchid & the Wasp
The Gospel of Orla is published by Seven Stories Press
9781838415990 // PB // £10.99 // 9th March 2023