My planned reading for Reading Ireland Month has come to an end, but I have been reading a lot of other books by Irish authors this month.
Here’s a quick round-up of what I’ve been distracting myself with.
We Are Not in the World by Conor O’Callaghan
I’m going to call it now. We Are Not in the World is in the running to be my book of the year. I loved Conor O’Callaghan’s debut Nothing On Earth and this is another otherworldy, beautifully written, elusive book that demands work from the reader and rewards that work. This story of a truck driver and his teenage daughter driving through France is never what you think it is. One of the most cleverly structed books I’ve read in a long time, it is a beautiful meditation on parenthood and grief and I haven’t been able to quite shake it since I read it.
The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes
Caoilinn Hughes follows up the wonderful Orchid & Wasp, with a novel about two brothers whose dying father has lost the family wealth in a dodgy property deal during the Celtic Tiger. Hughes explores the fall out and aftermath of the Celtic Tiger in microcosm, focusing on one family and the consequences they face. Her dialogue is sharp and often hilarious – reminiscent of Kevin Barry – and the novel manages to be both political and personal at the same time.
As You Were by Elaine Feeney
Elaine Feeney’s debut novel is set on a hospital ward and tells the story of Sinead, a career focused mother of a young family, who has terminal cancer. That in itself would be dramatic enough, but Sinead has yet to tell her family, or anyone for that matter, that she is dying. Despite the subject matter, As You Were is a sharp and funny exploration of the lives of the fellow patients on Sinead’s ward and turns a biting glance at modern society and in particular it’s treatment of women and mental illness while, at the same time, focusing on the small kindnesses and friendships that make life bearable.
Say Nothing by Patrick Raden Keaffe
Say Nothing is a non-fiction exploration of the worst years of the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, told through two opposing narratives. The book uses the story of two women – Jean McConville, a mother of 10 who was ‘disappeared’ by the IRA in 1972 and the story of Dolours Price, an IRA member and hunger striker – to explore the history of this most vicious war.
Despite actually living through a lot of what Raden Keaffe covers here, I still learned a lot from this book, which is incredibly readable and mostly partisan. Raden Keaffe explores the key players from Gerry Adams to Ian Paisley and is careful to put their actions and beliefs in context without condoning what they did. The convergance of the stories of McConville and Price at the end are as shocking as any thriller although Raden Keaffe’s conclusion might be a little too neat for some. However this is one of the most fascinating and clear-eyed examinations of my country that I have read.
Actress by Anne Enright
I have found Anne Enright to be a bit hit or miss in the past, but I really enjoyed Actress, the story of faded Irish film star Katherine O’Dell as told by her daughter Norah. Enright clearly loves the theatre, and this novel is, if anything a love letter to the stage and screen and to the type of old-school star power that could stop people in their tracks. Norah is as vivid a character here as her mother and while this is a wonderful portrait of a daughter trying desperately to understand who her mother really was, it is also a portrait of a woman trying to understand her real self.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
There has been a lot of hype about Hamnet, and I did enjoy this historical retelling of the lives of Shakespeare’s family. O’Farrell is a thoughtful, emotional writer but I felt that the framing of the story around the writing of Hamlet and the death of Shakespeare’s son was superfluous. Shakespeare’s profession had little to do with the ongoing narrative, which focuses on his wife Agnes, and when his written work and his real life did come together at the end it really didn’t work for me. However, as a portrait of life in England in the 1600s and as an exploration of love, death and grief, it was, at times, very moving.
Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford
Ada and her father aren’t human. They came up from the Ground and they live on the outskirts of a village, providing healing to the ‘Cures’ or humans who come to beg their help. Ada’s father goes out at night to hunt, wolf-like and both can reach inside humans and remove tumours and fix pain. Their settled existence is threatened by Ada’s growing relationship with Samson and his meddling sister Olivia. Melding folklore, magic realism and fairytale, Follow Me to Ground is a completely unique reading experience, a type of feminist horror reminiscent of The Vegetarian that never fails to grip the attention.
Ireland Month Irish Literature #readingirelandmonth20 anne enright caoilinn hughes conor o'Callaghan elaine feeney irish literature Maggie o'farrell patrick raden keaffe reading ireland month sue rainsford
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!