The Pen Friend

Ciaran Carson
The Pen Friend

More than twenty years after the end of their love affair, Gabriel receives an unexpected and cryptic postcard from his old flame. It is the first of thirteen cards from her, each one provoking a series of reveries about their relationship and prompting Gabriel to write a letter to his ex-lover in which he dwells in sensuous detail on perfumes, clothes, conversations as he tries to recapture the spirit of their romance in 1980s Belfast. The Pen Friend is, however, much more than a love story. As Gabriel teases out the significance of the cards, the layers of meaning in the images and messages, his reveries develop into richly textured meditations on writing, memory, spiritualism and surveillance. The result is an elaborate and intricate web of fact and fiction, a narrative that marries sharp historical insights with imaginative exuberance, a strange and wonderful novel confirming Ciaran Carson as one of Ireland’s most exciting writers. The novel itself is a stunning object, with full-colour postcards throughout.

‘Triumphant. Twisted and playful. The story is relatively easy to follow, which is not to say that it is not also a fiendishly intricate puzzle machine. This novel is an original creation. Technically complex but oddly simple, arcanely informative, humorously puzzling, sensible, sensational, compassionate, it deserves to win whatever prizes are going. For the Man Booker jury, here’s a book and a man.’ Brian Lynch, Irish Independent

‘If Seamus Heaney is the voice of rural Ulster, Ciaran Carson is the laureate of the urban North.’ Terry Eagleton, New Statesman

‘A novel not solely about the Troubles but also about the uneasy peace that has emerged since the Good Friday agreement and remains overshadowed by history. Reaches a climax of ingenuity and considerable power.’ TLS


  • Blackstaff Press UK & Ireland
  • Del Vecchio Editore Italy

Material: finished copies (244pp)