Best Irish Novelists
The following reading list does not include Rooney, Anne Enright, Tana French, or Dame Edna.
The following authors are all Irish and they call upon many eras, societies, Irelands, and worlds to craft their novels.
‘One of the finest short story writers of the twentieth century’ – Joyce Carol Oates
Mary Lavin is ranked amongst the greatest short-story writers of the twentieth century, and remains a titan of Irish literature. First published in 1967, In the Middle of the Fields explores lives that are multi-layered and secretive, peculiar and intimate, and offers a window into the quiet tragedies and joys of human life. This collection is a profound example of Lavin’s unique control, insight and subtlety.
For the first time in decades, and with an introduction by Colm Tóibín, the Modern Irish Classics series brings this hallmark collection to a new generation of readers.
The Dancers Dancing Éilís Ní Dhuibhne
|The Dancers Dancing|
It is 1972. A group of teenage girls are sent to the Donegal Gaeltacht to improve their Irish and experience the local culture.
Liberated for the first time from the reins of parental control, they respond to the untamed landscape of river, hill and sea, finding in it unnerving echoes of their own submerged – and now emerging – wildnesses.
Praise for The Dancers Dancing
‘Éilís Ní Dhuibhne in The Dancers Dancing has produced one of the most compelling and understated exercises in the female Bildungsroman.’
‘With a delicate touch not unlike Arundhati Roy’s in The God of Small Things, Ní Dhuibhne sneaks under the ill-fitting skin of her metamorphosing Derry and Dublin cast. Their stories unravel in shifting voices with all the wisdom and perspective of an omniscient narrator.’
Sunday Business Post
‘Ní Dhuibhne’s writing is marvellous, building layers of impression until a complex, vital and true-false picture of liberation is revealed.’
‘Her observations are lemon-fresh, her writing beautiful, witty and wry.’
‘Ni Dhuibhne has a great way of mixing and merging the realistic with something otherworldly, like crossing an Alice Munro or an Anne Tyler with an Angela Carter or a Jeanette Winterson.’ –Books Ireland
‘With a delicate touch not unlike Arundhati Roy’s in The God of Small Things, Ni Dhuibhne sneaks under the ill-fitting skin of her metamorphosing Derry and Dublin cast. Their stories unravel in shifting voices with all the wisdom and perspective of an omniscient narrator.’ –Sunday Business Post
‘Ni Dhuibhne’s writing is marvellous, building layers of impression until a complex, vital and true-false picture of liberation is revealed.’ Irish Times ‘Her observations are lemon-fresh, her writing beautiful, witty and wry.’ Sunday Express ‘The author portrays the wild beauty of north Donegal, the doubt and confusion of girls just beginning to discover their sexuality, with a lyrical use of language that perfectly catches the mood of both time and place. The book is a joy to read and sustains the air of wonder, of unsolved mystery to the final chapter.’ –Irish Immigrant Review
The glorious heresies. by lisa mcinerney
WINNER OF THE BAILEYS’ WOMEN’S PRIZE FOR FICTION 2016
WINNER OF THE DESMOND ELLIOT PRIZE 2016
We all do stupid things when we’re kids.
Ryan Cusack’s grown up faster than most – being the oldest of six with a dead mum and an alcoholic dad will do that for you.
And nobody says Ryan’s stupid. Not even behind his back.
It’s the people around him who are the problem. The gangland boss using his dad as a ‘cleaner’. The neighbour who says she’s trying to help but maybe wants something more than that. The prostitute searching for the man she never knew she’d miss until he disappeared without trace one night . . .
The only one on Ryan’s side is his girlfriend Karine. If he blows that, he’s all alone.
But the truth is, you don’t know your own strength till you need it.
“Drugs, booze, obscenity, violence and black humor fuel Lisa McInerney’s audacious first novel. . . . The Glorious Heresies is impressive for its moral complexity, and for the energy and virtuosity of its language: a strange, pleasing music that lingers in your mind.” —The New York Times
“A bleak, powerful novel. . . . Darkly comic. . . . McInerney writes an energetic, profane prose laced with the vibrant idiom of Cork street life.” —The Washington Post
“A wonderfully offbeat voice. . . . McInerney’s characters aren’t what anyone would call saints, but they’re so richly drawn you have to respect the way they think and sympathize with their moral conflicts.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Lisa McInerney’s first novel takes off like a house on fire and doesn’t stop until it has singed the reader’s heart. Love, crime, and cockeyed redemption meet on a hardscrabble housing estate in County Cork, Ireland, in a rare blend of heartbreak and humour. . . . Ms McInerney is a writer to watch.” —The Economist
“McInerney’s debut won the 2016 Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction, and you can see why from the first page. Her lively, unexpected prose brings these characters—and the crucible of their surroundings—to life.” —Elle
The River Capture by Mary Costello
|The River Capture|
SHORTLISTED FOR EASON NOVEL OF THE YEAR, IRISH BOOK AWARDS Luke O’Brien has left Dublin to live a quiet life on his family land on the bend of the River Sullane. Alone in his big house, he longs for a return to his family’s heyday and turns to books for solace. One morning a young woman arrives at his door and enters his life with profound consequences. Her presence presents him and his family with an almost impossible dilemma. In a novel that pays glorious homage to Joyce, The River Capture tells of one man’s descent into near madness, and the possibility of rescue. This is a novel about love, loyalty and the raging forces of nature. More than anything, it is a book about the life of the mind and the redemptive powers of art.
The Lesser Bohemians By Eimear McBride
One night an eighteen-year-old Irish girl, recently arrived in London to attend drama school, meets an older man—a well-regarded actor in his own right. While she is naive and thrilled by life in the big city, he is haunted by more than a few demons, and the clamorous relationship that ensues risks undoing them both.
A captivating story of passion and innocence, joy and discovery set against the vibrant atmosphere of 1990s London over the course of a single year, The Lesser Bohemians glows with the eddies and anxieties of growing up, and the transformative intensity of a powerful new love.
Winner of the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction
Shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award
Shortlisted for the 2016 Goldsmiths Prize
Shortlisted for the 2016 Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards Eason Novel of the Year
The Devil I Know by Claire Kilroy
|The devil I know|
From the award-winning Irish novelist comes this “savagely comic . . . dark, surreal” satire of low morals, high finance, and Ireland’s precarious property boom (The New York Times).
Tristram St. Lawrence hasn’t been home for years. Ever since he missed his mother’s deathbed to go on a bender, the thirteenth Earl of Howth isn’t welcome in the family castle. Now sober, he lives in self-imposed exile and is in contact with only two confidantes. One is Desmond Hickey, a former childhood bully, and current successful developer. The other is M. Deauville, Tristram’s mysterious AA sponsor to whom he is utterly beholden.
Then Hickey pitches an ambitious development project to Tristram. M. Deauville assures him that it’s a great idea. Before Tristram knows it, he’s up to his neck in funding proposals, zoning approvals, bids on the property from Britain to Shanghai, and blind drunk with the euphoria of becoming a very rich man.
In this wry skewering of a country, a man, and today’s international financial system, Kilroy “balances perfectly the comic and the monstrous . . . with an eerie believability, leaving us in a situation completely unrealistic and, for that, completely true” (The Daily Beast).
Cold Eye of Heaven by Christine Dwyer Hickey
|The Cold Eye Of Heaven|
The Cold Eye of Heaven: the stunning new novel from Christine Dwyer Hickey, bestselling author of Last Train from Liguria.
Farley is an elderly Irishman, frail in body but sharp as a tack. Waking in the middle of the night he finds himself lying paralyzed on the cold bathroom floor. And so his mind begins to move backwards, taking us with him into his past. As Farley unravels the warp and weft of his life, he relives the loves, losses and betrayals with the darkly comic wit of a true Dubliner. For this is also Dublin’s story, the city Farley has seen through poverty and prosperity, boom and bust – each the other’s constant companion throughout his seventy-five years.
Epic in scope, rich in detail, and shot through with black humour, The Cold Eye of Heaven is a bitter-sweet paean to Dublin and a unique meditation on the life of one of its citizens.
Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume
|Spill Simmer Falter|
“A deeply attuned portrait of the human mind…An unsettling literary surprise of the best sort.”—Atlantic
“This book is like a flame in daylight: beautiful and unexpected.”—Anne Enright
It is springtime, and two outcasts—a man ignored, even shunned by his village, and the one-eyed dog he takes into his quiet, tightly shuttered life—find each other, by accident or fate, and forge an unlikely connection. As their friendship grows, their small, seaside town falsely perceives menace where there is only mishap—and the duo must take to the road.
Gorgeously written in poetic and mesmerizing prose, Spill Simmer Falter Wither is one of those rare stories that utterly and completely imagines its way into a life most of us would never see. It transforms us in our understanding not only of the world, but also of ourselves.
“A man-and-his-dog story like no other.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“[Spill Simmer Falter Wither] hums with its own distinctiveness.”— Guardian (UK)
“A tour de force…A stunning and wonderful achievement by a writer touched by greatness.”
—Joseph O’Connor, for the Irish Times
Milkman by Anna Burns
In an unnamed city, where to be interesting is dangerous, an eighteen-year-old woman has attracted the unwanted and unavoidable attention of a powerful and frightening older man, ‘Milkman’. In this community, where suggestions quickly become fact, where gossip and hearsay can lead to terrible consequences, what can she do to stop a rumour once it has started? Milkman is persistent, the word is spreading, and she is no longer in control . . .
WINNER OF THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2018
SHORTLISTED FOR THE RATHBONES FOLIO PRIZE 2019
SHORTLISTED FOR THE WOMEN’S PRIZE FOR FICTION 2019
SHORTLISTED FOR THE ORWELL PRIZE FOR POLITICAL FICTION 2019
‘Blazing.’ Daily Telegraph
‘Outstanding.’ New Statesman
‘A triumph.’ Guardian
‘Utterly compelling.’ Irish Times
‘The best Booker winner in years.’ Metro
My dream of you Nuala O’Faolain
“A grand achievement in storytelling… A lovely heartbreaker of a novel that asks the hard questions.”—USA Today
“Ingeniously explores the consuming power of both passion and the past.”—Entertainment Weekly
“What a pleasure it is to be able to open a book and relax into the flow of a beautifully written narrative…With an ambling, intimate candor, O’Faolain tells Kathleen’s story, present and past…And always, of course, behind everything is Ireland itself—beautiful, maddening Ireland.”—Lynn Freed, Washington Post Book World
A New York Times notable book and bestseller, this debut novel from Irish Times columnist Nuala O’Faolain takes on life and love with Dickensian flair and the striking intimacy that characterized her bestselling and acclaimed memoir, Are You Somebody?
Set in Ireland and spanning a century and a half, My Dream of You unfolds the compelling stories of two women and their quests for passion, connection, and fulfillment. A globetrotting Irish travel writer, Kathleen de Burca is used to living—and loving—on the run. On the brink of fifty, she decides to leave her job and rethink her life. Intrigued by a divorce case dating back to the days of the Potato Famine, she tries hand at writing about it. The case, called “The Talbot Affair,” detailed the clandestine liaison between the wife of a British landlord and an Irish servant in Ireland in the 1850s. After a bitter thirty-year absence, Kathleen returns to Ireland, the land of her troubled childhood and turbulent heritage, in search of answers to her questions about desire and lasting love.
Belinda by Maria Edgeworth
Maria Edgeworth won the admiration of her contemporary Jane Austen, as well as later writers such as Thackeray and Turgenev, and in Belinda (1801) she tackles issues of gender and race in a manner at once comic and thought-provoking. Braving the perils of the marriage market, Belinda learns to think for herself as the examples of her friends prove singularly unreliable.
Edgeworth’s varied cast includes the bewitching aristocrat, Lady Delacour, whose dreadful secret puts her in the power of her volatile servant; the dashing Creole gentleman, Mr Vincent who almost succeeds in winning Belinda’s hand if not her heart; the eccentric Clarence Hervey, whose attempts to create an ideal wife backfire; and the outrageous Harriet Freke, whose antics as social outlaw land her in a mantrap.
This lively comedy challenges the conventions of courtship, examines questions of female independence, and exposes the limits of domesticity. The text used in this edition (1802) also confronts the difficult and fascinating issues of racism and mixed marriage, which Edgeworth toned down in later editions.
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Tender: A Novel by Belinda McKeon
A Kirkus Best Book of the Year
An Electric Literature Best Book of the Year
A Lithub Best Book of the Year
A searing novel about longing, intimacy and obsession from the award-winning author of Solace.
When they meet in Dublin in the late nineties, Catherine and James become close as two friends can be. She is a sheltered college student, he an adventurous, charismatic young artist. In a city brimming with possibilities, he spurs her to take life on with gusto. But as Catherine opens herself to new experiences, James’s life becomes a prison; as changed as the new Ireland may be, it is still not a place in which he feels able to truly be himself. Catherine, grateful to James and worried for him, desperately wants to help–but as time moves on, and as life begins to take the friends in difference directions, she discovers that there is a perilously fine line between helping someone and hurting him further. When crisis hits, Catherine finds herself at the mercy of feelings she cannot control, leading her to jeopardize all she holds dear.
By turns exhilarating and devastating, Tender is a dazzling exploration of human relationships, of the lies we tell ourselves and the lies we are taught to tell. It is the story of first love and lost innocence, of discovery and betrayal. A tense high-wire act with keen psychological insights, this daring novel confirms Belinda McKeon as a major voice in contemporary fiction, joining the ranks of the masterful Edna O’Brien and Anne Enright.
The Meeting Point
When Euan and Ruth set off with their young daughter to live in Bahrain, it is meant to be an experience and adventure they will cherish. But on the night they arrive, Ruth discovers the truth behind the missionary work Euan has planned and feels her world start to crumble. Far from home, and with events spiralling towards war in nearby Iraq, she starts to question her faith – in Euan, in their marriage and in all she has held dear.
With Euan so often away, she is confined to their guarded compound with her neighbours and, in particular, Noor, a troubled teenager recently returned to Bahrain to live with her father. Confronted by temptations and doubt, each must make choices that could change all of their lives for ever.
Compelling, passionate and deeply resonant, The Meeting Point is a novel about idealism and innocence, about the unexpected turns life can take and the dangers and chances that await us.