If you like Irish folklore and enjoyed Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, and/or The Road by Cormac McCarthy, then you owe it to yourself to read David Corbett’s 2023 novel The Truth Against the World.
Corbett comes out of the crime novel tradition, and The Truth Against the World brings elements of that, and, as always, an interesting pairing of protagonists. In this case, our two heroes are Georgie and Shane.
Georgie O’Halloran is a gifted artist and writer, a young woman currently being held in an institution for the mentally ill. Before Georgie ended up there, she was a successful college student who wrote, hand-lettered, and illustrated a beautiful fantasy story based on Irish myth. She gave this one-of-a-kind artifact to her professor, who she was involved with, as a gift. He published it under his own name, gained wealth and acclaim, and went on to write lackluster sequels. Now he has made the leap to a video game, one which has been co-opted by the violent neo-fascist groups who rampage the countryside.
Georgie may be isolated, but she isn’t alone. She has a friend and a strange protector in the person of Shane Riordan, a transplant from Ireland. Shane can fight, he can tell amazing stories, and he has a lovely singing voice—and he has secrets.
Shane breaks Georgie out of the institution and they hit the road, because Georgie is determined to confront her betrayer. She doesn’t want the money or the fame—just a chance to tell the faithless lover to his face just what she thinks of him. The story, though, gets bigger than that, as they move through a dangerous, savage American landscape in a country teetering on the precipice of anarchy.
I read Georgie and Shane as a pair of soulmates. Their connection is not sexual or romantic, but more than their shared mission ties them together. Shane, our first-person narrator, intersperses the present-tense story with history and tales from Ireland… old Ireland, reaching deep into the mythic tributaries of that land. It becomes clear that much of Shane’s knowledge is first-hand. Corbett weaves the Eternal Warrior element into this story deftly, with grace and magic. Georgie has her own magic, and as the story continues, we begin to wonder if hers, too, goes beyond artistry and storytelling.
Whether it is an apocalyptic American landscape, or the afterlife, Corbett depicts worlds with detail, care, and energy that catapults the story forward. Shane’s quest is deeper than we might have thought at first, and frankly, it may be a doomed one—certainly in the present world, the forces arrayed against Shane and Georgie go far beyond a plagiarizing professor or even a corrupt local government.
I’ll pause here to say that the villainous professor may not, technically, a plagiarist, since the book was a gift. (There is another reason, which he spells out as he defends himself.) In fact, Georgie’s anger is that he never publicly acknowledged her work, and that he commercialized an offering of love. Once he decided to “monetize” it, he gave her, the actual creator, zero credit.
Beneath Shane’s trained violence is a deep yearning for connection, and beneath Georgie’s exterior fragility is a steel-clad commitment to the truth. For all the magic in these two characters, Corbett is clear that they are flesh-and-blood. They can be stopped. The question is: If they are stopped, will their message carry on?
This story is literary, but Corbett brings in the fantast complete confidence. The Truth Against the World is shocking, tense, sad, and deeply magical. It left me, at the end, with hope. I recommend it.