Listowel Writers' Week Book of the Year 1995

The Fabulists

By: Phillip Casey

Publication Date: June 1995

(4 customer reviews)


The Fabulists is a love story set in contemporary Dublin. After a brief encounter on the Ha’penny Bridge over the Liffey, Tess and Mungo contrive to make their paths cross again. ‘Two spoofers,’ Tess thinks to herself. ‘It might even be fun.’ The relationship that develops extends the horizons of their lives on the dole, struggling with children and marriage, filled with sexual longing, and hungry for purpose.

As life and fantasy interweave between Dublin, Wexford, Berlin and Barcelona, Tess and Mungo consummate their love through tales which are erotic, exotic and often guilt-ridden, confronting truths about themselves, and restoring the fabric of a torn past.

The Fabulists, about love and parenthood, desire and frailty, describes ordinary lives and emotions in an extraordinary way.

‘A deeply accomplished first novel. Casey has a penetrating eye for the stuff of everyday relationships and the compassion to turn the ordinary into compelling and vivid fiction.’ – Eoin McNamee, The Irish Times

‘The emotions explored are deep and serious, the characters get all our sympathy … a stunningly truthful and perfectly pitched novel.’ Colm Tóibín

This is a passionate, erotic mature novel that displays many of the virtues which contemporary Irish fiction so conspicuously lacks: an intelligent vision of an adult relationship coupled with an intelligent vision of contemporary Irish Society … a supple prose style which is a constant joy to read.’ – Ronan Sheehan, Irish Press

‘Casey has an uncanny ability to portray the needy fragility and boundless imaginative desire of a woman’s unfolding sexuality.’ Katie Donovan, The Big Issue

‘Mortally angelic writing by a man that understands as no one else does the seam of gold and revelation in the strict greys of the mundane.’ – Sebastian Barry, The Irish Times

‘Casey has created an involving, mature drama of a man and a woman struggling to endure profound personal disappointments. ‘ Publishers Weekly


PHILIP CASEY was born in London in 1950 and raised in Co. Wexford, before travelling widely in Israel and Europe. His previous works include The Year of the Knife, Poems 1980-1990 (1991), and a one-act play, Cardinal. This is his first novel. He lives in Dublin and is a member of Aosdána.


4 reviews for The Fabulists

  1. Lilliput Press

    “An award-winning novel by a writer who has received critical acclaim for his fiction. ‘The Fabulists’ explores the themes of love and parenthood, desire and fragility and already has many fans. In it we meet Tess and Mungo and learn of their lives and longings. Casey writes with a poet’s eye for telling detail and eloquent omissions. A wonderfully evocative book.” G. WYNNE-JONES

  2. Lilliput Press

    “This is an ambitious dramatic exploration in fictional form of two people who keep meeting by chance around the Ha’penny Bridge (now a.k.a. the Millennium B.) in Dublin across the Liffey. Tess and Mungo (while her name gains a query from M., she oddly never asks about his very uncommon Gaelic name, better known in Scotland) are both conveniently full of free time, he having injured his arm and so on disability, she on the dole and semi-estranged from her husband and son. I wonder if the 1990 setting here, in which Dubs can afford dismal but still sufficient rented accomodations while on the dole, could be still true today…

    They start telling each other tall tales, she of Berlin, he of Spain, to while away the time and to fill in the moments they aren’t coupling madly. These tales, unfortunately, do not truly captivate the reader enough let alone it seems the listeners but they do explain the novel’s title. This whole motivation, as with the examination of their complicated adultery and whatever the ending as Mary Robinson is elected President, seems severely underdeveloped for all the space given to these matters. The ending’s appropriately inconclusive about their relationship. You could make a perverse argument that this shows how much free time those living off the government could have in 1990 Ireland, and the sympathy that readers are expected to have for the protagonists’ poverty appears a bit forced, given their concomitant luxury of lots of time to go pub-crawling and have at each other before they have to pick up their respective children from school.

    Casey, to his credit, handles scenes of relationships within marriages that are enduring but not thriving well. Casey also adds needed verve into this plot with a few vividly conveyed erotic interludes appropriately demystifying and therefore all the more realistic. While he never writes sentences or frames scenes that in themselves are all that memorable out of context, within his limits of the Dublin settings around the Liffey, he does re-create the sights and sounds well enough, if not spectacularly so. He is at his best when mulling over the predicaments of child-raising and how choosing comfort clashes with a young-middle-aged pair’s desire to free themselves of their familial constraints to liberate themselves into passion. While this whole theme works more in parts than as a whole in the novel, it does record for posterity a worthwhile, if less substantial than was intended, look at Ireland on the cusp of changes–like divorce’s legalization–that would shake up the remaining traditions of Mungo and Tess’ determined individualism that they vow to be faithful to while disregarding as much as possible their country’s moribund and stagnant culture.” JOHN MURPHY

  3. Lilliput Press

    “Tess and Mungo are injured people, their links to their respective partners sundered or sundering. A chance meeting leads to their telling each other stories, but it’s the stories of what is happening to each of them that grips the reader.
    In minute detail, Casey reveals the experience of how Dublin feels when there’s little or no money coming in. Little victories make the lives of Mungo and Tess worth carrying on with.
    It’s a story with a beginning, middle and end, but there’s some special extra ingredient, which maybe comes from Casey having previously been best known for his poetry.
    This will lie around for a few years and then be declared a Modern Classic.”

  4. Lilliput Press

    “This is a beautifully written novel about the extraordinary nature of seemingly ordinary lives. Tess and Mungo meet and remeet, and engage in telling each other stories, though their real lives are depicted outside their encounters. The poignancy of their situations can’t fail to move the reader. Wonderful!”

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Weight 0.5 kg
Dimensions 135 × 215 mm
Publication Date

June 1995


Paperback, 236pp