The book centres of O'Leary Montagu who remembers nothing of his life before the car crash. Armed only with a book, a history of a village in Ireland, he's become infatuated with, he heads to the village write a biography of Nancy Valentine, the writer of the book. He arrives to find the characters from the book just as they were left.
The supporting cast provide almost as much interest as Montagu himself, each having their own particular neurosis. For a long while it seems as if Livia is an exception, the only un-neurosised character, less charactertured, but eventually we find her self delusion too. Still, in a strange way she's the most "real" character -- an icon of normality which serves to exagerate the strangeness of the other characters by contrast.
While the book stays in third person narration throughout, in each section there's always one and only one character whose thoughts the reader is privy to which gives it some of the feel of changing first person narrative. When Montagu is the "focused" character we are also privy to the fact that his internal monologue often drops into varying literary genres the choice of which are not of his control but reflect his mood. Once you're used to them, this is a very effective technique but I think O'Neill introduces too many tricks like this too quickly -- after the reading the first chapter I felt that this book was too clever for its own good. After a few more chapters, I'd decided it was good enough to be that clever. I wonder if the start could have been reworked to avoid my initial doubts?
The mystery element of the book works well: O'Neill drops hints well and we often have the pleasure of being a step or two in front of some of the characters, though not uniformly so (and the surprises help keep our interest up). The book is also very funny in places (the seduction scene is the least sexy and most amusing I've read in a while). All in all, a well crafted, fun read, but nowhere near the league of At Swim, which is much less showy and in which O'Neill paints everything with a much subtler brush.