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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Le Fanu's Angel

Brian Keogh

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To purchase Le Fanu's Angel

Title: Le Fanu's Angel
Author: Brian Keogh
Genre: Novel
Written: 2021
Length: 368 pages
Availability: Le Fanu's Angel - US
Le Fanu's Angel - UK
Le Fanu's Angel - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : sprawling, in a variety of ways (including between the supernatural and real) but good fun

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Herald . 25/5/2021 Alastair Mabbott

  From the Reviews:
  • "Keogh's debut novel is a gripping and audaciously effective supernatural thriller, which pits his protagonist against savage spectral entities from a realm of the dead in conflicts which toughen him up for the equally crucial battles in the boardroom of his advertising agency." - Alastair Mabbott, The Herald

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Le Fanu's Angel begins with thirty-three-year-old Kieran Sheridan Le Fanu waking up from an induced coma in hospital, recovering from a car crash; the driver of the car he was in, Cronin Brenner, the CEO of the ad agency he works at, was killed, as were the two people in the car they collided with. Kieran suffered grave injuries as well -- and rather than relief at waking finds himself only more unsure about his state: his account begins: "I came to consciousness, or so I thought", and his uncertainty will continue for quite a while. The fact that the first being he encounters then while lying in the hospital bed isn't, as he assumes, a doctor but rather someone who tries to smother him with a pillow doesn't help his state of mind -- nor does, a minute later, the actual medical staff's insistence that no such being could have been in his room.
       Kieran tries not to let on as he then starts to quickly recover at least his physical health, but he can't get the notion out of his mind that he might, in fact, actually have died, and that all this isn't real any longer. A psychiatrist who gives him a cursory once-over mentions that there is such a thing as Cotard's Syndrome:

This occurs when a patient becomes convinced he or she is dead or, in some manner, doesn't really exist.
       Kieran isn't forthright with the psychiatric specialist and keeps his concerns to himself, but there's no question that reality has gone a bit wonky around him -- or at least that his mind is perceiving it as such. He has what amount to some visions and experiences things that others insist are impossible, not least some what amount to temporal distortions. So, for example, there's that patient who briefly shares his room, and then passes away -- impossible, as Kieran experiences it, and yet .....
       Among the most striking visions he has is of a beautiful woman who comes to his room; he is immediately completely taken by her -- it was a: "coup de foudre, like a thunderclap, love at first sight". That things -- and she -- are maybe not quite what they seem is already suggested in the first encounter:
     "I met Sheridan Le Fanu once," she murmured. We were introduced in the foyer of the Shelbourne Hotel. He was perfectly civil, talked of Swedenborg, mostly. But he was clearly unhappy to be in social company. I knew nothing then of his repute as a writer of the supernatural."
     I was lost for a response. Sheridan Le Fanu had died in 1873. Were we talking at cross-purposes ? I wanted to keep the conversation going but, baffled, I couldn't think how to get it onto a normal plane.
       There is quite a bit of this overlap of planes -- the supernatural and the real -- to Le Fanu's Angel -- and so, for example, also, it doesn't come as a huge surprise to learn that the name of one of the passengers in the other car involved in the deadly accident is Aoife. Meanwhile, this Aoife promises Kieran: "I'll be with you when you need me" and she would certainly seem to deliver: if not the real (or spectral) presence he would like to have before him, he finds himself with a protective guardian angel who, unseen, takes care of any threats he finds himself facing. And he soon finds himself facing considerable -- and very physical -- threats.
       If some of this supernatural stuff hangs over much of the story -- and swoops in to repeatedly influence events --, much of Le Fanu's Angel is then a more conventional story, essentially about taking control of the ad agency. Orphaned at a young age, Kieran was raised by an uncle, Jasper, who did very well for himself for a while -- including with his Sheridan ad agency -- and then lost (almost) it all in Ireland's financial crash. A few years earlier, he disappeared, apparently in a boating accident or suicide, but his body was never found; Kieran refers to it as his uncle's "vanishment" -- and can't help but wonder whether or not the old man might not have simply slipped off somewhere with what money he still had stashed away and continued to live in comfortable retirement somewhere.
       Kieran was to be the heir at the advertising firm, but that possibility evaporated with Japser's financial ruin; still, he retained a five per cent interest and continued employment at the agency, as well as a seat on the board. He's aware of his position:
Jasper over-promoted me to keep the agency in the family and I'm on the board, well, because I'm an all-around agreeable guy and it's not worth anyone's time to take me off.
       The agency is now essentially in the hands of Larry Brenner -- who had installed one of his sons, the now deceased Cronin, as CEO --, who makes all the essential decisions. Nevertheless, Kieran finds himself sliding into the acting CEO role after Cronin's death -- and almost immediately causes some uncomfortable rumblings when he refuses to sign off on what amounts to an illegal money-laundering scheme involving one of their major clients, quickly earning the enmity of Larry, for whom the deal is an important cog in his own (remunerative but involved-with-the-wrong-people) business.
       There's a gentle -- on the surface -- tug-of-war for control of the agency, as Larry soon installs his other son, Quinn, as CEO, with Kieran, with his threat of exposing the illegal dealings, retaining some cards to play. The Brenners mean to take care of Kieran in their own way, but his guardian angel is looking out for him, in what becomes an almost comic series of attempts to get at Kieran that go, increasingly spectacularly, wrong.
       The car accident certainly changed Kieran. His colleagues notice it, too: "He had a new-found laidback confidence that replaced the former diffidence". As one of them notes:
I don't know what that accident did to you. You've changed in a short time, big time.
       Kieran finds so too -- though he also can't explain it. That lingering doubt, about just how real all this is, remains as well -- but Kieran does rather comfortably go with the flow. He long had no memory of the crash and the events surrounding it, but that too finally comes to him; he also comes to learn more about the crash-victim Aoife.
       Le Fanu's Angel is something of an odd mix of a novel. Embrace of the supernatural allows for anything-goes, which tends to be fictionally uninteresting, but Keogh does present these elements appealing vividly. It helps, too, that there's a slight comic touch to it, in the sense of how too good to be true the occurrences around him are, and the hence-inevitable outcomes: there's a bit of suspense as the threats close in, but then very easy relief as everything works out so well for Kieran (and so definitely not well for his adversaries).
       The set-up for the more conventional side of the novel is equally entertaining, from Keiran's unusual living-situation -- another of Jasper's legacies, and amusing consequence of banks being a bit too free and careless in their lending -- to the layers of corruption involving the Brenners and their businesses. The change in Kieran's character, increasingly confident and willing to take risks, also makes for a plausible personal-growth story -- though with a guardian angel like he has, who wouldn't get more cocky ?
       Kieran's uncertainty about whether or not he might not actually be dead is an interesting idea, but perhaps not played out as much as it could be. An odd choice here was to have a handful of the forty-odd chapters narrated not by Kieran but an omniscient narrator, describing some events from a different perspective -- implying, of course, that all of this is very real indeed.
       It is all fairly nicely (if a bit easily) brought to a conclusion. Readers' tolerance for the supernatural may vary, but for all its artificial convenience Keogh handles it quite well, and the echoes of old master Le Fanu are a nice touch. Most importantly, Keogh tells a good story -- both at the level of the individual episodes as well as the larger stories -- and tells them well, making for a thoroughly engaging novel and enjoyable read.
       Le Fanu's Angel may try to be a bit too much -- with its philosophical speculation, romance, business dealings (legitimate and not), and supernatural visions, among much else -- but isn't sunk by its ambitions. Good fun.

- M.A.Orthofer, 22 June 2021

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Le Fanu's Angel: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Irish literature

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About the Author:

       Brian Keogh is an Irish author.

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© 2021-2022 the complete review

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