At his best, O’Callaghan creates characters who live with the reader ... examines the scaffolding of middle age: duty, the fading of passion, the erosion of choices, looming mortality...If this all sounds very sad, that’s because it is. The novel is a meditation on an often disappointing time and O’Callaghan doesn’t shy away from his subject ... In the closing pages, O’Callaghan’s prose reaches a pitch of emotional intensity that ensures these characters will linger with you long after the book is closed.
It’s that rare thing, a tender straight-ahead love story which convinces thoroughly while steering clear of the fashionably dysfunctional and transgressive relationships that dominate so much contemporary fiction ... Michael’s desperate search for love is plausibly presented, but Caitlin’s story is less convincing and skirts the border of cliché a little too closely ... O’Callaghan’s significant achievement in this fine novel is to retain our sympathy for the two lovers. Unlike in other novels on the theme of adultery, neither the writer nor his readers are tempted to judge the star-crossed lovers too harshly ... Good books remind us of other good books and in its treatment of adultery this one calls to mind thematic ancestors such as Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina and The Scarlet Letter. It also reminded me of the Alan Alda romcom Same Time, Next Year and, in its ending on the train, of the classic Brief Encounter. All that’s missing is the Rachmaninov.
... melancholic, lushly poetic ... The skeptical might wonder just how the two have managed to deceive their shadowy spouses for so many years, as well as how they have maintained such a white-hot passion through the decades, but few will be able to resist O’Callaghan’s romantic spirit. Driven by language rather than plot, the novel strikes a mood as elegaic as it is sensual.
... quiet, subtle and deeply moving ... O’Callaghan imbues his characters with dignity and authenticity ... Throughout, O’Callaghan writes with a poet’s attention to language ... Despite the title, Coney Island itself does not play a great role in the book. But it’s out there, beyond the windows of their hotel room, an almost mythological place that, like the central couple, is now a bit run down and past its prime, no longer the bright, vibrant wonderland of decades before. It’s a cry back to lost decades, a place that summons images of happiness, mischief and carefree youth, the very things that Michael and Caitlin feel are lost to them but can be rediscovered, briefly, in these stolen afternoons ... This is a fine novel, with elegance and wisdom lying beneath an unpretentious surface and O’Callaghan, a gifted writer, has managed to do that most difficult of things: take a quiet, almost everyday story, and transform it into a thing of beauty.
What O’Callaghan achieves in his descriptions of place, counterbalances the frugality of the novel’s dialogue ... Caitlin, Michael, and their supporting cast are not nearly as verbose as O’Callaghan’s exposition, which can, at times, seem too heavy for the delicate matters at hand — marriage, its inertia, history and stability, the love contained within it, illogical and unheeding — even in the way the text appears on the page, where paragraphs of description separate spats of diegetic, sequential dialogue ... seems imported from an earlier decade, complete with an earlier decade’s set of literary preoccupations. My Coney Island Baby is perhaps one of the few recent contemporary literary novels to eschew any claim to 'timeliness' ... Technology fails to make a single appearance; politics is absent. The novel works more slowly and makes promises less grand and more familiar than most of its peers but tells the story I imagine O’Callaghan intended: a heartfelt, engrossing web of four intertwined lives strewn with tragedies and banalities, all bound together by an affair.
... poetic ... My Coney Island Baby covers familiar narrative ground, but there’s nothing formulaic about this talented Irishman’s second novel ... If this is the end of the affair, O’Callaghan is determined to capture it in extraordinary detail. He has a sculptor’s eye ... [O’Callaghan's] plot may not be expansive, but he’s intensely in touch with his characters’ sensory experiences ... A small story told at close range, My Coney Island Baby is suffused with great, painful beauty.
While some will likely draw comparisons with the work of Colm Tóibín, American readers might find Pat Conroy to be a more immediate touchstone. O’Callaghan has a keen sense of observation for emotional nuance, and his use of language is simply a delight to the mind’s ear; it’s impossible he could be anything other than Irish ... perfect for reading next to the fire on a gray day, snuggled under a blanket with a cup of tea or something a little stronger, as the wood and your dreams give off their last bit of heat before turning into smoke.
... an impressive work ... O’Callaghan opens with some of the book’s most impressive writing, fistfuls of muscular prose that channels Seamus Heaney ... The prose settles down while remaining exceptional, elegiac and eloquent, in conveying insight and sympathy for the small cast’s two main players as they face an uncertain future ... O’Callaghan anatomizes these emotional and psychological odysseys, making a narrative light on incident compellingly readable.
... stiff ... While the boardwalk setting 'at the end of the world' before a large storm hits New York is vividly rendered, heightening the tension of what may be a final meeting, the thinness of the plot is frustrating, with Michael and Caitlin’s conversations coming across as rather maudlin. And while the story hinges on the assumed passion of their relationship, the two lovers are awkward and taciturn, and much of the dialogue is delivered in one-sided, long-winded monologues. O’Callaghan excels at painting a bleak portrait of physical and emotional isolation; unfortunately, the unsatisfying character development and weak plot fail to live up to the intriguing setup.