The Mangan Inheritance

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $10.95

The moving spirit of this enjoyable novel is James Clarence Mangan, a nineteenth-century Irishman whose mediocre nationalistic verse and debauched life have won him a dubious position as Europe’s first poète maudit. More important, they have earned him the admiration of Jamie Mangan, a young Canadian who may or may not be his descendant.
Overshadowed in Montreal by his father and in New York by his wife, Jamie—who is himself something of a poet manqué—sees in his striking likeness to the earlier Mangan the promise of a future of his own. When he unexpectedly inherits a fortune, he is able to pursue his hope to Ireland, where “unnaturally close resemblances, sordid family history, and unnerving hints of prophecy” eventually teach him the truth about himself.
One of the chief strengths of The Mangan Inheritance is that it combines a very familiar theme with a straightforward, realistic style and still somehow manages to seem utterly fresh, as though the illusions of the pursuit of identity had never before been explored. Moore paces the book like a thriller, and his ability to evoke character is unparalleled. One could argue that chance plays too large a role in Jamie’s destiny, but that’s a minor flaw.