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An Autobiography

By: John Moriarty

Publication Date: 21 May 2011

(3 customer reviews)


Nostos: An Autobiography by John Moriarty

To commemorate the fourth anniversary of the death of celebrated Irish writer and philosopher John Moriarty, we have reprinted his acclaimed autobiography Nostos.

In this astonishing volume of autobiography, John Moriarty’s earlier works of mystical philosophy, Dreamtime and Turtle Was Gone a Long Time, are given a biographical grounding. Inhabited by all that he reads and perceives, Moriarty recovers lost forms of sensibility and categories of understanding, reconciling them gloriously within the arc of his life.

Nostos is a Greek word meaning ‘homecoming’. In its plural form, nostoi, it was the name of an extensive body of literature in ancient Greece about the Greek heroes who returned from the Trojan Wars. Most of this literature has perished, but we do have The Odyssey, describing the long homecoming of Odysseus to Ithaca. Moriarty’s book assumes that for various reasons humanity is now exiled from the earth, but by reimagining it and ourselves as involved in a common destiny, it enacts a homecoming, a nostos to it.

Nostos is a continuous narrative describing early on how its author lost his world as surely and completely as the Aztecs lost theirs when Cortez came ashore. Thereafter, in places as far apart as neolithic North Kerry and London, Periclean Athens and Blackfoot Dancing Ground, Manitoba and Mexico, Kwakiutl coast and Connemara, the author fights his way to a kind of rest, to a requiem, at the heart of things as they terribly and resplendently are.

‘The classical, Eastern and Amer-Indian legends that have informed Moriarty’s life are recreated or re-enacted in this deeply personal document, which is paradoxically rich in encounters with the physical world and tender episodes of love and loss, while giving us a disturbing insight into the terrors and rare ecstasies of the hermit’s lonely struggle.’Tim Robinson

‘Nostos is something of an epic.’ – The Irish Times


JOHN MORIARTY was born in North Kerry in 1938 and educated at Listowel and University College Dublin. He taught English literature at the University of Manitoba in Canada for six years, before returning to Ireland in 1971. He is author of Dreamtime (1994), and the trilogy Turtle Was Gone a Long Time: Crossing the Kedron (1996), Horsehead Nebula Neighing (1997) and Anaconda Canoe (1998).

Also available as an ebook

3 reviews for Nostos

  1. Lilliput Press

    “One of the longest and certainly one of the most diffused books I have read. It reminds me of other Irish eccentrics, Denis Johnston and Francis Stuart, who also kicked against the pricks of an earlier 20c Irish conservatism and Christianity to, amidst the wreckage of that century, construct their own alternative mentality. They wrote in a prose style that refused to stand still or sit down. Like Johnston and Stuart, Moriarty can not fit in to the society that invites him to remain as a lecturer, a gardener, or a lover of one woman or one place. He roams from his native North Kerry where he was born at the end of the 1930s to Greece, Dublin, Leeds, Mexico, Manitoba, across the Arizona desert, to 1960s Haight-Ashbury, back to Canada, over to Connemara, and into Kildare and Wicklow as the story, not really the autobiography that its subtitle indicates, subsides around the mid-1970s. Some of the best passages, about his mother’s death, a Native American tale of Mouse, and of his father’s few but telling words to his wandering son, are right near the end.

    While I along with Moriarty wondered aloud, long before he did on p. 300 of this 698 pp. tome, if he’d finally wearied of the same unending questions, the pace is set by him and we must keep up, out of respect and adventure if not comfort or complacency. This book is as grueling as a long slog through the decades of one man’s mind, more an inner journey than one easily linked to years and fixed by names or limited to locales. While it has these all at times, its true encounters are as enigmatic and as powerful as those of Jacob as he wrestled–with himself, with an angel, with a demon, with a god, with God–at Bethel. To his credit, Moriarty likewise refuses the easy explication. He never has the Paul on the road to Damascus encounter I feared and expected him to find by the end of his millions of words here, and thank whatever deity or lack of such revelation, for that stubborn and honest fidelity.

    This book spirals, in that old Celtic sense. Moriarty constantly circles around key passages from Melville, Pascal, the Book of Job, 19 and 20c scientists, and many myths to elaborate his own fusion of a post-Christian/classically informed/globally aware spiritual and intellectual project. He wants to admire the mountain itself, he says, not the Moses or the Mohammed who came to the mountain with laws and dogma.

    If you looked at a page of this book at random, the shamanistic repetition, the invocations, the interruptions and the recriminations would appear as part-sense, part-ravings. But Moriarty, despite his formidable learning, his defiant and curly mane, and his considerable storytelling skills, is no madman on the bus next to you. This book demands attention and rewards introspection. I found myself impatient, intimidated, and irritated by it as much as I was inspired, informed, and impelled to re-examine my own muddled soul’s reflection.” JOHN L MURPHY

  2. Lilliput Press

    “This is a marvellous book. It is a compendious look at life. At the darkness as well as the light. John Moriarty tells us the story of his journey inwards and outwards and downwards. It is a biography of re-birthing and re-imagining, of dark nights of the soul and of tender intimacy. Ulimately this fascinating book tells the story of one man’s journey of struggle and some kind of acceptance. It is a book for dipping into and savouring, rather than trying to read at one go. A bit like Joyce’s Ulysses, this book is mythic in every sense of the work. Everything is grist to the mill of his thought.” PETER

  3. Lilliput Press

    “It is hard for me to say more than I have already said in my reviews of two of John Moriarty’s other books. Sadly my way with words is no match for his.

    John Moriarty spent his life searching the heights and depths, the light and the darkness of human life, indeed of all life. He poured all his knowledge, all his love, and all his hard won wisdom into his books. Nostos (and it’s follow up volume, What the curlew said) are generally regarded as his finest works. In them the story of his life (and indeed loves) is so closely interwoven with his spiritual and philosophical journey that they are in fact one journey, one life.

    John’s writing, and his learning, are not always easy to keep up with (an understatement some will say!), but for me Nostos still merits 5 stars, indeed more. In my view, to criticise him for being difficult and obscure is like criticising The Waste Land or Wittgenstein for being difficult. Given John’s learning and his passion his books I think could have been no other way.

    With all my heart I recommend Nostos to anyone who feels the least curiosity about John Moriarty and his writing, indeed anyone who is trying to search out the deepest realities of existence. It is more than worth the effort.” TOBOR

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Weight 1.25 kg
Dimensions 160 × 240 mm
Publication Date

21 May 2011


Hardback, 704pp