Life Sentences

Listen to a sample

What to expect

Brought to you by Penguin.


Three generations. More than a century of famine, war, violence and love.

At sixteen Nancy, the only member of her family to survive the Great Famine, leaves her small island for the mainland. Finding work in a grand house on the edge of Cork City, she feels irrepressibly drawn to the charismatic gardener Michael Egan, sparking a love affair that soon throws her into a fight for her life.

In 1920, Nancy’s son Jer has lived through battles of his own as a soldier in the Great War. Now drunk in a jail cell, he struggles to piece together where he has come from, and who he wants to be.

And in the early 1980s, Jer’s youngest child Nellie is nearing the end of her life in a council house, moments away from her childhood home; remembering the night when she and her family stole back something that was rightfully theirs, she imagines what lies in store for those who will survive her.

‘Brilliantly immerses us in its respective time periods’ SUNDAY TIMES
‘Momentous and epic’ BERNARD MACLAVERTY
‘Superb and moving’ JOHN BANVILLE
‘A lovely, piercing book’ SEBASTIAN BARRY

© Billy O’Callaghan 2021 (P) Penguin Audio 2022

Critics Review

  • 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
  • O’Callaghan is amongst the finest storytellers and wordsmiths in Ireland today.

    Anne Griffin
  • A beautiful novel.

    Sunday Times Culture
  • 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

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

    RTÉ Radio One

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