> Skip to content
  • Published: 21 January 2021
  • ISBN: 9781473578241
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 240

Life Sentences

the unforgettable Irish bestseller

A sweeping historical epic about one Irish family's fight for survival - the most ambitious novel yet from the Costa-shortlisted writer, for fans of Colm Toibin and Sebastian Barry


An unforgettable tale of love, abandonment, hunger and redemption, from a rising star of Irish fiction

'O'Callaghan is one of our finest writers . . . and this is his best work yet' JOHN BANVILLE


At just sixteen, Nancy leaves the small island of Cape Clear for the mainland, the only member of her family to survive the effects of the Great Famine. Finding work in a grand house on the edge of Cork City, she is irrepressibly drawn to the charismatic gardener Michael Egan, sparking a love affair and a devastating chain of events that continues to unfold over three generations. Spanning more than a century, Life Sentences is the unforgettable journey of a family hungry for redemption, and determined against all odds to be free.

This sweeping story of one family's fight for survival goes on making the heart lurch long after the final page, and confirms Billy O'Callaghan as one of the finest living Irish writers.


'A lovely, piercing book' SEBASTIAN BARRY

'Stops you in your tracks so you can savour its utter beauty' ANNE GRIFFIN

'Momentous and epic storytelling' BERNARD MACLAVERTY

'So good and true it feels almost magical' SADIE JONES

'Eminently readable . . . My book of the year so far' RYAN TUBRIDY

  • Published: 21 January 2021
  • ISBN: 9781473578241
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 240

About the author

Billy O'Callaghan

Billy O’Callaghan is the author of the critically acclaimed novel My Coney Island Baby, which has been translated into eight languages and was shortlisted for the Encore Award 2020. The title story in his short-story collection The Boatman and Other Stories was shortlisted for the Costa Short Story Award. He lives in Douglas, a village on the edge of Cork City.

Also by Billy O'Callaghan

See all

Praise for Life Sentences

Billy O'Callaghan's writing is so good and true it feels almost magical; Life Sentences is a beautiful book, a small epic, a joy.

Sadie Jones

A book that stops you in your tracks so you can savour its utter beauty . . . O'Callaghan is amongst the finest storytellers and wordsmiths in Ireland today.

Anne Griffin

Momentous and epic storytelling.

Bernard MacLaverty

A superb and moving novel . . . O'Callaghan is one of our finest writers, in the tradition of John McGahern and Brian Friel, and this is his best work yet.

John Banville, Sunday Independent *Books of the Year*

The novel I most look forward to is Billy O'Callaghan's Life Sentences.

Maggie Fergusson, Tablet *Highlights of 2021*

The accomplished writer . . . O'Callaghan has proved an empathic and expert diviner of the extraordinary in ordinary lives.

Marjorie Brennan, Irish Examiner

The strength of Life Sentences lies in its long range but intimate style . . . A reader could profitably finish the book and go straight back to its beginning, like Finnegans Wake.

John Self, Spectator

[An] epic story . . . Life Sentences is a beautiful novel.

Eithne Shortall, Sunday Times Culture

An absolutely stunning book . . . A truly beautiful read.

Sinéad Moriarty

Eminently readable . . . People who read Sebastian Barry, Donal Ryan, Liam O'Flaherty will really love [Life Sentences] . . . It's my book of the year so far.

Ryan Tubridy, RTÉ Radio One

Lyrical, poignant, gripping . . . O'Callaghan weaves together a narrative that is compelling and dazzlingly rendered.

James Moran, Tablet, *Novel of the Week*

One of the most beautiful books of the year.

Sam Blake, #1 Irish Times bestselling author of the Cat Connolly trilogy

A gifted storyteller.

Donal O'Donoghue, RTÉ Guide

O'Callaghan's prose is mesmerising in its beauty . . . Profound, moving, sometimes shocking, [Life Sentences is] from the pen of a writer at the top of his game.

Anne Cunningham, Meath Chronicle

Life Sentences brilliantly immerses us in its respective time periods, and . . . O'Callaghan's natural gifts as a writer . . . the author often coming out with a stunning turn of phrase.

Barry Pierce, Sunday Times

A terrific family saga.

Village Bookshelf

A lovely, piercing book.

Sebastian Barry

The reader is invested from the start . . . So poetically elegant as to be breathtaking . . . Life Sentences is writing at its finest.

Claire Fullerton, New York Journal of Books

A lyrical prose reminiscent of William Trevor, and a haunting family drama.

Times Literary Supplement

One of the most exciting literary talents to emerge in the last decade.

Irish Examiner

Related titles