Excellent Irish Fiction.

Excellent Irish Fiction

Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Lá Féile Pádraig Shona daoibh go léir.

I thought I might mark the day by telling you about some of my favourite Irish authors. These are contemporary authors whose books I have loved over the last few years.

Excellent Irish Fiction

Sebastian Barry writes poetic, sparse, spine-tingling books. The Secret Scripture is built around conversations between a very elderly resident of a regional mental hospital and her doctor. We know by now that, in Ireland, you didn’t have to be crazy to wind up in a mental hospital. You can watch a trailer for the up-coming Jim Sheridan film adaptation here. It looks good and Rooney Mara’s Irish accent passes the grade.

You can read my review of Barry’s magnificent latest novel, Days Without End, here.

Sebastian Barry. Days Without End.

John Boyne. I have to steel myself to read his books because they invariably leave me in tatters. I’ve heard that his new book, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, has a bit of humour so maybe he has been listening to reader feedback!

Everyone knows The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. If you haven’t read it, you simply must.

The most recent of his books that I’ve read was A History of Loneliness. This is all I managed to write about it at the time:

‘If you want a true insight into the Irish pysche you should read John Boyne’s A History of Loneliness. I’ve been intending to write about it for weeks but I get a pain in my chest every time I think about it. It is funny, laugh out loud hilarious at times, but don’t read it unless you are prepared to know the worst of us, the evil we accepted in this country and to which we turned a blind eye. The worst was not being shocked by it because this history, to our eternal shame, is embedded in us.’

John Boyne's A History Of Loneliness will break your heart.

Roddy Doyle. A national treasure. I think the nation as a whole loves Roddy Doyle to bits. We quote him regularly but most particularly when announcing the birth weight of new babies. We are a country populated by small turkeys. There is a funny article here on Doyle’s contribution to Ireland. I think we should have a new national holiday called Roddy Doyle Day when we all listen to the soundtrack of The Commitments and eat chips from chip vans.

But seriously, The Woman Who Walked Into Doors is superb.

Colm McCann. Let The Great World Spin is centred on an account of a high-wire walk which took place between the twin towers in 1974. You just have to read it. It’s brilliant.

Paul Murray. I’ve only read one of his books but I enjoyed it very much. Skippy Dies is best described, I think, as an Irish answer to Dead Poets Society. It’s very sad but very funny. More people should read it.

Graham Norton. To be honest, I just didn’t see this coming. I read Holding mostly out of curiosity but I was captivated from the word go. The book gives an honest but gentle view of Ireland rather than the harshly critical study presented by so many Irish authors. We are our own worst critics but Norton writes about West Cork with genuine affection. I wrote a review which you can read here.

Holding by Graham Norton

Liz Nugent. Again, I read Lying in Wait with reluctance (‘domestic thriller’ is not my cup of tea) but I couldn’t escape the hype. It turns out to have been well-deserved. Liz Nugent is a rising superstar. I don’t have a photo because I borrowed this one from the library (which, I’ll have you know, involved adding my name to a LONG waiting list). I’m already anticipating her next book with bated breath. You can read my review here.

book review of Liz Nugent's thriller Lying in Wait.

Joseph O’Connor. I’m a massive fan. I’ve been reading and loving his books for my entire adult life. I wrote a bit about my idolisation of Joseph O’Connor here when I read The Thrill of it All. I’ve chosen The Star of the Sea as the one I would recommend if you were to read just one of O’Connor’s brilliant books.


Colm Tóibín. Brooklyn. My maternal great-grandparents emigrated to America as newly-weds and settled in a handsome brownstone building somewhere in Boston. My great-grandmother, according to my Granny, loved America. In 1921, my great-grandfather was summoned home to Ireland after a series of tragic accidents made him heir to the family farm. They sailed home with their small family, my Granny ‘on the way’, and as much of their new American furniture as they could manage. Granny always said that her mother bitterly resented that call to come home until the day she died, in her forties, from a brain hemorrhage. Colm Tóibín captures that tug on Irish people, to stay or to go, to stay away or come back, that has become an intrinsic part of being Irish.

It seems an opportune moment to remind you of my previous St. Patrick’s Day posts:

Teeny Weeny Shamrock Pattern. remains my only original crochet pattern. It is, as you can imagine, ridiculously easy.The work of ten minutes or less. My Small Girl has one of these clipped in her hair today and it looks lovely.

Tricolour Toast is a tasty snack in the colours of the Irish flag.

If you have 8 minutes to spare, I recommend taking this link to TodayFM and clicking on the podcast of Ireland’s Greatest Song Lyrics. Spine-tingling stuff. ‘Where’s me jumper?,”Give it to me raw, I’ll take it home cook it myself,”You’re the chocolate at the end of my cornetto,’…ah yes, we are a nation of poets, or foodies, probably both. It all comes back to the famine. But what about this :‘You are the measure of my dreams, the measure of my dreams,

Here’s the one that had me doing my best solo bop about the kitchen table. Love this:

Have a great weekend.

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Just one sentence about the Irish book awards.

The overall prize at the Bord Gais Irish Book Awards, The Eason’s Novel of the Year, was won by Mike McCormack‘s book, Solar Bones, which I picked up in Waterstones last week and put down again thinking I might read it another time when I’m not so tired because, well, to be honest I was intimidated by the fact that it is written as a single sentence, all one sentence and no full stops, except one at the end, I suppose, and that just seemed a bit too Joycean (I failed at Joyce, twice, in my teens and got scared off trying again) so I took the easier route and chose Graham Norton’s Holding which, as I wrote about yesterday, I completely loved and clearly I was not alone since Graham won the Irish Independent (darn it but these sponsored prizes have unwieldy titles) Popular Fiction Book of the Year which was not in the least surprising and nor was I the teeniest bit surprised to read that Liz Nugent won the Ryan Tubridy Show’s Listeners’ Choice Award for her book, Lying in Wait which I wrote about here and which has been milling around in my head ever since I read it as I keep thinking about poor Laurence, especially with the weather turning so wet and miserable, and hoping that he has made good his escape although that seems about as likely as my succeeding in getting a night of unbroken sleep of which I am so clearly in desperate need and more so than ever having remained awake all night last night for fear that my beloved Teenage Son, and member of the Irish delegation to the European Youth Parliament (that possibly sounds more impressive than it really is but I am very proud of him all the same), would miss his bus to Dublin, and therefore his flight to Hamburg, which didn’t seem unlikely at all given that I was met in the kitchen at 5.45 AM by another dog diarrhoeal incident (you may like to revisit the previous incident, here) the noxious whiff of which could not be ignored and on top of that (not literally) said EYP delegate was wandering around, in extremely unparliamentary attire, at twenty-five minutes to bus-leaving time looking for a pair of socks while I scoured the hall table for a second glove but, fear not, I got him to the bus and now I must spend five days worrying that he will keep himself safe and wear two socks at all times and you won’t believe it but Ryan Tubridy just this minute announced on the radio that it is snowing in Dublin so good job I insisted on that second glove and good job also that I finished my crocheted fingerless mittens, the pattern for which I have already managed to lose, sorry about that, and which I am wearing right now while I type to my great advantage and comfort but not yours, you cry as you read this nonsensical, but mercifully odourless, verbal diarrhoea so I will tell you about just one more thing which is that you should take a look at the National Book Tokens Find The Books competition which looks impossible to begin with but then you get a run at it and are fooled into thinking you might actually get all the clues but ultimately you are stuck with one that drives you crazy for every waking and trying-to-sleeping moment of the day until you finally beg your Facebook friends to put you out of your misery and that smartass who happens to be the person who told you to write something, anything he said, which turned out to be this blog (so that’s who to blame if this is doing your head in) bings back with the correct answer in seven seconds flat which is at once an enormous relief and gigantic anti-climax, at least that’s how the Find The Books quiz went for me last year so if that sounds like a good time to you (as it does to me, honestly) take a look and be prepared to help me when I get stuck and decide to close this ridiculous post with a massive, and long overdue, FULL STOP.

book review of Liz Nugent's thriller Lying in Wait.Holding by Graham Nortoncrocheted fingerless mittens

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Graham Norton’s Holding.

Holding by Graham Norton

My early teenage years were rotten. They were sufficiently miserable, I think, to warrant a doleful memoir but the writing of it would likely kill me. Never mind that, for one month (July) out of every twelve I was shipped off to summer school in a Ghaeltacht (Irish-speaking) area of West Cork. There, on an island three miles long by one mile wide, I discovered that there is something very reassuring about isolation. The mind, mine at least, relaxes in wide open spaces with long views and no visible threat on the horizon.


I hated leaving, every single time, I would cry inconsolably on the ferry ride back to the mainland. I might, if circumstances had allowed, have taken myself to live out there. I could have spent all my days reading books and listening to the ocean.

But you have to venture forth, don’t you? You have to gather all your courage and put your game face on. Becoming an adult is about being brave enough to jump in and say, ‘hey, I want to play too.’

What has any of this to do with Graham Norton?

Click here to read more.

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