2022 turned out to be a bumper year for Irish Fiction, with two writers making it on to the Booker longlist and a raft of great novels being released to great critical acclaim. I promise you that I tried to keep this list to five, but there was one I couldn’t leave out, so it rose to six. In addition, if you add in my Special Mention, you get seven. Sorry, not sorry! They were just all too good.
Trespasses by Louise Kennedy
Trespasses was my most anticipated novel of 2022 and it didn’t disappoint. Set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, Trespasses is a shattering novel about a young woman caught between allegiance to community and a dangerous passion with an older man. With an affecting lyricism, Kennedy elevates her love story until it transcends into something more charged and more universal. The rightful winner of the recent Irish Novel of the Year and the Irish Book Awards.
Dance Move by Wendy Erskine
I’ve been raving about Dance Move all year, the new collection of acutely observed short stories from Wendy Erksine, in which the everyday and the extraordinary meet, and exploring the unexpected moments of connection that can change a life forever. These stories have real emotional depth and act as reminders that no one has an ordinary life; that the extraordinary is living within everyone. Wendy Erskine is clear-eyed when exploring the dark complexities of human behaviour, but the humour and sensitivity displayed within her affecting prose allow this collection to soar.
This Train Is For by Bernie McGill
Bernie McGill’s book of short stories, This Train is For is a collection of quiet majesty, featuring twelve perfectly crafted stories, all exploring moments of transition in the lives of the lost and the lonely. From the memory-laden streets of Botanic to the warm anonymity of Sardinia, McGill’s characters struggle with the repercussions of bereavement, past trauma and forgiveness. The collection is full of actual journeys – as in the masterful title story in which siblings separated for over fifty years reunite while they still have time – but also features journeys of the mind as characters come to terms with their past and attempt to define their futures.
Hawk Mountain by Conner Habib
A divorced single father of a young boy is trying to make a new life for himself in a new town, when his high-school bully makes an appearance insinuating his way back into his life, before a shocking act of violence serves to link them forever.
To say any more would be to spoil what is a brutal, horrifying yet often beautiful book. Habib’s control of the narrative and sense of pacing is fantastic, creating a palpable tension and dream-like atmosphere that never lets up. His prose is controlled yet emotive and the relatively straightforward plot belies an intelligent exploration of identity, sexuality and control.
Where I End by Sophie White
Where I End is the story of nineteen-year-old Aoileann, who lives on an island off the coast of Ireland with her intransigent grandmother Móraí and her mute bed-bound mother. Where I End is not for the fainthearted. A taut and beautifully controlled melding of folk-horror and body-horror, the novel is written with a graphic ferocity, which cannot be rushed and can at times repel. White uses the harsh landscape of the island and imagery of the sea to wonderful effect, and as the story builds to a devastating, yet wholly believable conclusion, White’s exploration of motherhood, loss and madness takes on a beauty all its own.
The Colony by Audrey Magee
A well deserved longlisting for the Booker Prize brought some well-deserved attentions to Audrey Magee’s thoughtful and intricately structured novel. The colony, set on a small island off the coast of Ireland explores the weight of tradition versus the pull of modernity and dissects the notion of colonisation and preservation of language with a deft hand.
SPECIAL MENTION: Spies in Canaan by David Park
Unfairly snubbed by the Booker Prize once again, the main action of Park’s new novel takes place in the overwhelming atmosphere of Vietnam in the 1960s. A novel about reckoning with the sins of the past, it is also an elegy to the power of atonement and gift of redemption. Spies in Canaan is a fiercely intelligent and contemplative novel, which is often reminiscent of the work of that other great Northern Irish author, Brian Moore. Park has woven a narrative that is compassionately observed, and flawless in its depiction of the inner life of a man trying to make sense of his past, the world and his place in it.
My Books of the Year round-up finishes tomorrow with my Top Five Books that were new, or new to me in 2022!
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!