• The Abstainer

  • A Novel
  • By: Ian McGuire
  • Narrated by: John Keating
  • Length: 10 hrs
  • 3.9 out of 5 stars (105 ratings)

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The Abstainer

By: Ian McGuire
Narrated by: John Keating
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Publisher's Summary

“This is Dickens in the present tense, Dickens for the 21st century.” (Roddy Doyle, The New York Times Book Review)

An Irishman in 19th-century England is forced to take sides when his nephew joins the bloody underground movement for independence in this propulsive novel from the acclaimed author of The North Water.   

Named One of the Ten Best Books of the Year by Chicago Tribune and One of the Best Books of the Year by The New York Times • The New York Public Library • New Statesman • Publishers Weekly

Manchester, England, 1867. The rebels will be hanged at dawn, and their brotherhood is already plotting its revenge. Stephen Doyle, an Irish American veteran of the Civil War, arrives in Manchester from New York with a thirst for blood. He has joined the Fenians, a secret society intent on ending British rule in Ireland by any means necessary. 

Head Constable James O’Connor has fled grief and drink in Dublin for a sober start in Manchester. His job is to discover and thwart the Fenians’ plans, whatever they might be. When a long-lost nephew arrives on O’Connor’s doorstep looking for work, he cannot foresee the way his fragile new life will be imperiled - and how his and Doyle’s fates will become fatally intertwined.   

In this propulsive tale of the underground war for Irish independence, the author of The North Water once again transports listeners to a time when blood begot blood. Moving from the dirt and uproar of industrial Manchester to the quiet hills of rural Pennsylvania, The Abstainer is a searing novel in which two men, haunted by their pasts and driven forward by the need for justice and retribution, must fight for life and legacy. 

©2020 Ian McGuire (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Compelling ... The physical world that [McGuire] imagines assails the reader’s senses: the stink of a tannery, the clangour of factory bells and the way O’Connor’s grief drives him to a ruthlessness beyond his nature.” (The Economist

“O’Connor’s showdown with Stephen Doyle delivers a gut-wrenching finale that will leave readers hoping desperately that McGuire (The North Water, 2016) has an O’Connor prequel in the works. O’Connor’s palpable alienation and the subtly drawn comparisons between the Irish insurgency and America’s then-recent civil war create layers of depth in this exceptional period thriller.” (Booklist, starred review)

“[A] taut, atmospheric tale ... McGuire demonstrates a mastery of classic realism. [This] crackling work is one to savor.” (Publishers Weekly, starred review)

What listeners say about The Abstainer

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

STOP NOW! TOO MANY SPOILERS!!

This is a terrific story. I was absorbed. It paints a very bleak and sensory picture, and if you enjoyed North Water, you will love this. Some of the other reviews are too revealing with regards to the ending. Don't blow it by reading more reviews ... just go by the stars if you want to gauge other readers' opinions. I will leave it at that. enjoy!

7 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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On par with Northwater

If you liked the North Water you’ll like this. If you don’t enjoy this book you’re likely a boring and/uninteresting person.

2 people found this helpful

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Excellently written, wonderful descriptions, depressing

The book is incredibly well written but is Depressingly realistic . The title is significant. I listened to it and the narrator was excellent. The writing is Dickensian as per the New York Times reviews. And the story is like the history of Ireland, frustratingAnd feels hopeless.

2 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Not very good.

I loved North Water so I was really looking forward to this one.

It is OK. But not even close to as well written and cleverly plotted as North Water. The narration in Irish is good. But when the narrator switches to some weird Long Island/Brooklyn accent for one of the main characters it is kind of cringy.

The bar was set high by North Water. This one is not ven close. Some authors only have one great book in them.

1 person found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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“Pinky Blinders” meets “The Abstainer”

Story could have been a third shorter and more focused on main character’s search for love. Story does link closely to “Pinky Blinders” (Netflix Series)except for the time difference.
Narration is very good.

1 person found this helpful

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Captivating

Hard to put down, which says a lot considering much of the plot is dark. I rarely read mysteries if they have any gruesome parts, but the cringe-worthy parts were overshadowed by the writing. This is testament to the gorgeous storytelling and wonderful narration. Read reviews by critics in the New York Tines, The Guardian, etc and you will want to give this a try. You won't be disappointed.

1 person found this helpful

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Not good, save your credit

Had high hopes for this one, and I trusted that there would be some sort of resolution or redeeming element to the story. It had the makings of being a type of Irish Les Miserables. Not so much. Cannot not recommend this strongly enough. Poor diction as well. The author uses “he thinks” or “she thinks” in virtually every patch of dialogue. Incredibly annoying and distracting.

1 person found this helpful

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Dude, where’s your ending?

The narrator was fine but the story wound up and ended…nowhere. I don’t understand why some books are published…unfinished as this book is with a chapter tacked on at the end to take the place of the climax. I don’t know who the writer’s editor was but he needed to help the writer find a real ending to his story rather than allowing it to collapse. Most disappointing book I have read in years. It would have taken but a bit more effort to make it more than a fine read.

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Great story, Disappointing end

Without giving it away, the ending is less than satisfactory, appearing to be whipped together to meet some unbeknownst writer / publishing deadline or requirement where an inconsequential character is given the final word. It makes me wonder if the author ended up despising the protagonist he created. After feeling excited throughout, I ended up exhausted and disappointed. It’s a great story, but be prepared to be left wanting in the end.

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Quite a story

We listened to this on a long road trip. It was a captivating tale and the writing was very descriptive. The performance was excellent, except the part where a character was thinking to himself… the narrator spoke in a soft voice there and it was hard to hear over the road noise.

I am glad I listened to it but, I gotta say, I didn’t like that ending!