Three Mothers, One Father by Sean Hogan

Three Mothers, One Father is a collection of disjointed tales which share a common theme: the battle between Mater Suspirirum, Mater Tenebrarum and Mater Lachrymarum (the Mother of Sighs, the Mother of Darkness and the Mother of Tears) and the Devil. It’s a plot which pitches evil versus evil, which makes a refreshing change. However, Sean Hogan is clearly a fan of dark cinema, and uses it as a pivotal part of his work.

The individual stories – and to a degree the overall shared plot – make extensive use of characters, images and themes from various films. These are woven together and elaborated on, which can create a sense of nostalgia when you stumble across a familiar element. However, it’s not always the case. Additionally, for those who have not watched all (or even some) of the films, this could be an issue.

When writers have a personal passion and use it to underpin a book or set of stories, it can add a deeper level of detail and intensity for those who share that passion. However, if the emphasis on their predilection is too strong, it may exclude some readers who don’t share the depth of knowledge of the writer. If books or stories become too esoteric, it can be to their detriment. Because Three Mothers, One Father leans heavily on a myriad of horror and suspense cinema, many of the images, characters and plot points are derived from a number of classic (and often obscure) films. As a result, the readers’ experience inevitably varies, dependent upon their knowledge of the selected movies.

At times, the imagery for the reader is greatly enhanced if they can then relate to the relevant film, but it’s a double-edged sword. For example, in the opening tale, a reference to the Devil appearing as a small blonde girl is used. In my mind I saw an Elizabethan child, white faced and dressed in a baroque clothing. It was sinister, unnerving and – for me – very fitting. It was a different way of presenting the Devil. However, it dawned on me the image was lifted from a Fellini film (actually his segment of Spirits of the Dead) which put an end to my imagination, replacing it instead with someone else’s interpretation.

For those not privy to the celluloid content, Hogan’s work can result in a somewhat underwhelming experience. While I relished some stories due to my familiarity with the images and plot points, I found others less captivating.

Putting that aside, Hogan dances from tale to tale with a fair degree of ability to interweave common elements, creating enough intrigue to keep the reader engaged, regardless of their cinematic knowledge. Some of the stories are predictable but are necessary to contribute to the overall plot. Others are mesmerising and could stand alone as captivating tales of suspense.

For those who have studied the folklore of the Devil, there’s enough detail to ensure you don’t feel old Lucifer is being used as a cheap ploy to pad out the story. If anything, the diabolic being Himself comes across as an affable chap who you might quite like to spend an evening with over a bottle or two. The Mothers, on the other hand, are less easy to warm to.

Continuity doesn’t really exist in terms of time or location. The stories jump from one historical period to another, and while some locations central to the core tale remain constant, the settings for the various stories don’t. This isn’t a bad thing and fits well with the theme of witchcraft and devilry. Where there is an element of commonality, it’s immediately recognisable. This in itself can add to the predictability, and at times I found myself waiting for the inevitable appearance of the various Mothers or the Devil, depending upon where the story was heading.

In Three Mothers, One Father, Sean Hogan has taken on the challenge to create a series of stories influenced by elements of classic films, with the addition of a common plot which ties everything together. It’s a lot to ask, and at times you do end up seeing the stitching, if you catch my drift. It becomes obvious the book is constrained by the use of cinematic devices, and that can be detrimental to the overall read.

Three Mothers, One Father is well written and an entertaining read. All the debates about the use of obscure cinematic elements doesn’t take that away!

You may also like...