Skip to content

By David Adams Richards

“It’s a wonderful thing to see a novelist swimming successfully against the tides of literary fashion….Richards has explored the idea that reality has an underlying moral structure. He writes of good and evil and human freedom to choose between them with an intensity of belief that puts him squarely in the tradition of his literary heroes, including Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky….What other novelist writes in a prose style of such knobby, uncanny, almost off-hand strength? And who else can so well catch the pettiness and misery of the criminal mind, or the melancholy of a child’s longing for an absent parent, or the beauty and loneliness of the search for moral truth? Mercy Among the Children is a masterpiece.”


Richards_Mercy Among the Children

Mercy Among the Children received effusive praise from the critics, was nominated for a Governor General’s Award and won the Giller Prize. It was named one of 2000’s best books, became a national bestseller in hardcover for months, and would be published in the US and UK. It is seen, however, as being at odds with literary fashion for concerning itself with good and evil and the human freedom to choose between them — an approach that puts Richards, as Maclean’s magazine says, firmly in the tradition of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Author Wayne Johnston recounts hearing Richards read in 1983 and being struck by his unqualified love for every one of his characters, even though “it was not then fashionable to love your characters”. Pottersfield Portfolio editor Tony Tremblay calls Richards the most misunderstood Canadian writer of the century, and a “great moralist”, comparing him to Morley Callaghan, Kafka and Melville.

At the age of twelve, Sidney Henderson, in a moment of anger, pushes his friend Connie Devlin off the roof of a local church. Looking down on Connie’s motionless body, Sidney believes he is dead. Let Connie live and I will never harm another soul, Sidney vows. At that moment, Connie stands up and, laughing, walks away.

In the years that follow, the brilliant, self-educated, ever-gentle Sidney keeps his promise, even in the face of the hatred and persecution of his insular, rural community, which sees his pacifism as an opportunity to exploit and abuse him. Sidney’s son Lyle, however, witnessing his family’s suffering with growing resentment and anger, comes to reject both God and his father and assumes an increasingly aggressive stance in defense of his family. When a small boy is killed in a tragic accident and Sidney is blamed, Lyle takes matters into his own, violent hands in an effort to protect the only people he loves: his beautiful and fragile mother, Elly; his gifted sister, Autumn; and his innocent, beatific brother, Percy. In the end, no one but Lyle can determine the legacy his family’s tragedy will hold.

“Richards’ novel, which won the Giller Prize in Canada, glitters with prose that evokes the beauty and harshness of the Maritimes … a contemporary masterpiece that, in the tradition of Tolstoy, Camus and Melville, reminds us that redemption is to be found in the suffering of innocents and that revenge ultimately is an empty act that can never satisfy the human craving for retribution.”
The Washington Post

“[Richards] conveys his moral vision so fiercely, and he addresses the question of how one should live with such urgent seriousness, that he simply sweeps away all objections. Read twenty pages and you’ll surrender to Mercy Among the Children–and to its language.”
The Atlantic Monthly

“Richards’s story-telling is raw and suspenseful.”
The Guardian

“Richards’s prose is at once blunt and vivid and his best phrases are reserved for descriptions of the rural Canadian landscape his characters inhabit. But the real heart of this book is in its moral argurment: Richards’s subtle dramatisation persuades us that to do no harm is not always to do no wrong.”
The Observer

“This beautifully written tale will linger in the reader’s imagination.”
Hello (London)

“[H]ow good is Mercy Among the Children? The simple answer is, very good indeed…. Richards’ New Brunswick is a timeless and infinitely foreign place…. an incomparable voyage into humanity’s flawed heart.”
The Scotsman

“Wonderfully told, this is a book that is redolent of E. Annie Proulx in its elegiac narrative, while achieving a depth of touch that feels truthful, individual and glorious. As the plot twists towards resolution, it becomes clear Richards has worked a tale of consummate morality and pathos.”
Scotland on Sunday

“Richards has cleverly constructed a novel which, although based around just one family, delves into the moral arguments surrounding appeasement, pacifism, and religion … The reader, left haunted by so much heartbreak, is compelled to flick back to the beginning and read it all over again…”
Evening Telegraph

“[A]tale so timeless–or, better, functioning out of time–that it resonates more as moral fable than exercise in gritty realism….Mercy Among the Children is a major novel precisely because it disavows concern for the structure of things in any one place and time in favour of the structure of things for all places and times. Literary fashions be damned; here is a fictional universe, fiercely imagined and brilliantly rendered, and everyone is welcome into it.”
The Globe and Mail

“More serious attempts to write about saints seem to be limited to European novelists — Dostoevsky in The Idiot, of course, and French Catholic novelists such as Leon Bloy and Georges Bernanos. Their novels are characterized by an emotional and spiritual intensity that doesn’t let up for a second….Whatever its mood and focus, the voice is always sincere. Nothing but the most thorough sincerity could carry off this wrenching story of good and evil, miracle and loss. In its depth of feeling and fierce drive, Mercy Among the Children makes even the best of contemporary novels seem forced and pallid.”
Toronto Star

“Mercy Among the Children is an almost mythic story of poverty and survival…It is a special and all too rare experience to be utterly surprised by greatness… Let the reputation-building begin: Mercy Among the Children is truly a great book, a grand achievement, a masterpiece.””
Quill & Quire

“One of the great novels of our time…This novel is a tremendous testament to the endurance of the human spirit. It will remain with the reader long after its covers are closed…David Adams Richards is one of the exceptional writers of our time.”
-Alistair MacLeod, author of No Great Mischief

“David Adams Richards is perhaps the greatest Canadian writer alive…”
Vancouver Sun


Doubleday Canada, Fall 2001

Arcade Publishing, US, Fall 2002

Cape, UK, Fall 2002

De Geus, Dutch, Spring 2003

Serpent a Plumes, France, Fall 2003

S. Fischer Verlag Germany, Fall 2006

Difel Difusao Editorial SA, Portugal, Spring 2003

WAB, Poland

Chongqing Publishing House, China, Spring 2004


Co-winner of the Giller Prize (together with Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost)

Winner of the CBA Libris award for novel of the year

Winner of the CBA Libris award for author of the year

Shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award

Shortlisted for the Trillium Award

Shortlisted for the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Prize

Other Books by David Adams Richards