Outside an east Belfast mission hall, pastor and family man Samuel Orr meets Anna, a young Beckett scholar. They embark on an intense love affair, their connection fuelled by their respective passions. When Anna falls pregnant, the affair is revealed. The repercussions are slow to emerge but inescapable, and the fallout is shocking, cruel and violent.
More than thirty years later Sam, their son, is in New York, living a steady, guarded life, his childhood and family safely abandoned.
But the sins of the fathers are not to be so easily buried; the past crashes inevitably into the present, and Sam is forced to confront the fears he has kept close for decades.
Terrific, it is expanding and expanding all the time, like its own model universe - I just think it is pretty marvellous
-- Sebastian Barry
Set in a defamiliarised Belfast, The First Day
is an auspicious debut - crisp, spare, lean and compelling
-- Patrick McCabe, author of The Butcher Boy
The First Day is an age-old story of forbidden love, given fresh resonance against the backdrop of the fractured, changing but still deeply conservative society that is contemporary Northern Ireland.
Phil Harrison writes with compassion and tenderness, never veering into sentimentality, about his young Beckett scholar and the married pastor she falls in love with. He has a screenwriter's ear for the way people talk, the cadences and omissions of their speech, and in particular the speech of religious Ulster, still rooted so deeply in the language and rhythms of the King James Bible. He illuminates a people - a place - seeking to escape from itself, seeking transfiguration, but desperately bound to what has gone before
-- Lucy Caldwell
In true Belfast style, Phil Harrison has planted a flag. The First Day is not just a novel, it's a declaration, full worthy of salute -- Glenn Patterson
Written with a burning intensity, this is a powerful novel about marriage, passion, anger and guilt
* Daily Mail *
Hugely impressive. A finely written tale which is original, compulsive, and at times chilling * Irish Examiner *
A wonderful debut. A fully engaging, well-written, very imaginative novel * Irish Times *
This is a truly excellent novel, on all counts . . . an unflinching yet compassionate investigation of matters of the human heart . . . [a] fine work of artistic invention * Irish Independent *
Harrison writes well and brings Belfast and the sectarian conflict vividly to life * Catholic Herald *
Gripping . . . This is a truly excellent novel, on all counts. The First Day
is as well-written as any Irish novel I've read, with tight, dispassionate and superbly controlled prose * Belfast Telegraph *
Deeply disturbing, morally challenging . . . remarkable * Publishers Weekly *The First Day
is a stark and spare story of a family divided . . . a stark and spare story of a family divided * Sunday Business Post *
Filmic in its scope and intensity . . . I hope we're in for more from this striking new voice in fiction -- Jamie Quatro, author of Fire Sermon * Guardian *
Written with a burning intensity, this is a powerful novel about marriage, passion, anger and guilt. -- Fanny Blake * Daily Mail *
Hugely impressive. A finely written tale which is original, compulsive, and at times chilling -- Sue Leonard * Irish Examiner *