In honour of St Patrick's Day*, I thought I would list my favourite Irish novels.
I went through an Irish reading phase in my early 20s (at about the same time I discovered U2 - but that's another story), so the list reflects a weird mix of cosy fiction and hard-hitting, award-winning tomes. Note, however, that it's a little inadequate on the classics front, with not a Joyce or an Edna O'Brien in sight!
The list is in alphabetical order according to author's name.
* Yes, I know that I am posting this a few days early, but I'll be too busy downing Guinness on Friday to think about blogging here!
**UPDATE** In my haste to post this last night, I failed to realise I had only listed 9 books! I've now completed the list by adding Walter Macken's Seek the Fair Land.
For a period of my life I considered John Banville to be my favourite author. Ever. I read Book of Evidence, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker and won the Guinness Peat Aviation Award, in my early 20s and thought it was the most profound novel I'd ever read. I was going through a phase of reading books with a dark, morbid edge and this - the story of a man who steals a painting from a wealthy friend and then kills the chambermaid who catches him in the act - fitted the bill perfectly. This book was followed up by two others (to form a trilogy) but, in my opinion, they did not surpass the grim beauty of this one. Definitely not for the faint hearted, but an interesting exploration of morals, guilt and why people do bad things.
Maeve Binchy is one of my guilty pleasures. I discovered her in my early 20s and read pretty much everything she ever wrote for the next decade, by which time I got a bit sick of her cloying tales of love and friendship. Light A Penny Candle, which is about an English girl who escapes the London blitz by staying with a family in Ireland, was the first book Binchy wrote and the first book by her that I ever read, hence its selection here. However, if I'm honest, it could have been any one of her books - Echoes, Firefly Summer, Silver Wedding, Circle of Friends, The Copper Beech, The Glass Lake - because they are all charming, deliciously girlie and overwhelmingly Irish reads.
This is kind of cheating, because this book is actually three novels in one, but I couldn't resist this wonderful trilogy. It comprises The Commitments, The Snapper and The Van - all of which are set in the Dublin working-class suburb of Barrytown and which, unsurprisingly, have all been turned into films. I say unsurprisingly because Doyle's stripped back writing style is reminiscent of a screenplay: a lot of dialogue and not much detail. But the best thing about these books is the laugh-out-loud humour. Not books to read in public then, unless you enjoy guffawing in front of strangers! My favourite is The Snapper, which is about a huge, sprawling Irish Catholic family and how they all band together when the eldest daughter falls pregnant out of wedlock but refuses to tell anyone the name of the father.
Sorry. I couldn't resist choosing another Roddy Doyle book. This one received the Man Booker Prize and with good reason. It's a delightful coming of age story told through the eyes of a 10-year-old Irish boy growing up in the 1960s. Doyle's descriptions of childhood - particularly of peer pressure - are pitch perfect and the language, comprising lots of Irish slang, is wonderful. The beauty of this book, however, is its clever balance of humour and pathos. A definite must read.