Joyride to Jupiter by Nuala O’Connor

Joyride to Jupiter cover

Nuala O’Connor’s stunning new collection of short stories Joyride to Jupiter opens with the line ‘I knew something was going to go wrong as sure as I knew west was west’ and closes with the promise that ‘All will be well.’ Things do go wrong in these stories, sometimes very wrong, but O’Connor moves seamlessly from despair to hope in this witty, humorous and moving collection.

Loss permeates a lot of the stories in Joyride to Jupiter as relationships falter, adulteries happen and familial ties are tested.

In the affecting Tinnycross estranged brothers are fighting over the inheritance of their family home, while the narrator of Consolata looks back on the childhood moment when she caught her father having sex with a nun. ‘How could my Sister Consolata want to be better friends with my father than with me?’

In Futuretense a copywriter for a fragrance company reflects on the suicide of her brother as she comes up with the blurb for new scents; while Squidinky depicts a tattooist grieving for her dead partner.

Yet this is not a depressing collection by any means. What makes these stories successful is the deft blending of wit and tenderness coupled with effective and welcome moments of humour. O’Connor is also skilfully aware of the importance in the short story of allowing nothing in particular to happen; yet when dramatic moments come they feel cohesive and well-timed.

In the wonderfully named title story, a man struggles to deal with his wife’s dementia and her regression into child-like precociousness. She starts wearing tracksuits and cheap teenage make-up and becomes more and more reliant on her husband.

And then she laughed because laughter falls from her now as it never did; it falls and pools around us, the one good thing. I knelt and stepped her feet into her knickers and pulled them up. I put her arms into the sleeves of her blouse and fiddled with the tiny buttons. She was childlike in her pliancy. I kissed her forehead. ‘You’re my dolly’, I said.

Poignancy soon gives way to unease as O’Connor skilfully portrays the unreliability of our narrator and as with all these stories there is a sense for the reader that we are never quite sure where we are going to be taken.

There is a strong sense of place in these stories, from rural Ireland to Naples via Rio de Janeiro, with vivid descriptions of landscape that often catch the breath.

Tonight there is a moon-rind, a nicotined fingernail, hanging low over the lake; above it, a Swarovski sparkler of a star

Being in a place or being away from a place are often the crux of these stories, whether it be a Ukrainian chambermaid watching her child grow up via Skype or a young emigre working in Manhattan and thinking of her mother back in Galway. These characters might as well be on Jupiter for the distance they have to breach.

My face is a shadow. My Mammy’s features blur and slip out of focus. I put my hand to the glass and rub at it to try to conjure her again. And I am flattened by the truth of things; no more than the poor little maneen from Ballinasloe, I will never look into my Mammy’s eyes again.

O’Connor’s characters are often ‘flattened by the truth of things’ and a lot of the stories rest on a moment of realisation and clarity. Whether or not anything will come of these moments of revelation is often tantalisingly left up to the reader.

Narrative voices are well-captured, particularly in the hilarious Penny and Leo in Married Bliss, where Penny’s anger at her belief that Leo is cheating, online and in real life, doesn’t stop her from fantasising about a tryst with the local priest.

Ah, he’s a fine thing though. God forgive me but I’d bounce up and down on Father Hugh Boylan all night, given a chance

The seemingly ironic nature of the title of the story does not play out the way you would expect and the story turns on its head to suggest that happiness comes in many forms.

In Joyride to Jupiter, the shortest pieces are no less affecting, unsurprising given O’Connor’s experience as a flash fiction writer. In Fish a neighbouring man and woman see each other in a state of undress, ‘and none of it could be undone’ while in the affecting Girlgrief a mother deals with the death of her grown son by looking after his daughter she has never met before. The ingenious Yellow verges towards science fiction as couples try to catch flying babies in a net – the style of the story perfectly capturing the surreal nature of infertility treatment.

Joyride to Jupiter is a collection that shows a writer with complete mastery of her craft. The best of the stories hint rather than shout but all are poignant and complex, riding on the dichotomy between hope and despair. She is clear-eyed when exploring the dark realities of human behaviour, but the humour and wit displayed within her affecting prose allow this collection to soar.

 Nuala O'Connor author 2

Nuala O’Connor AKA Nuala Ní Chonchúir was born in Dublin, she lives in East Galway. Her fifth short story collection Joyride to Jupiter was published by New Island in June 2017. Penguin USA, Penguin Canada and Sandstone (UK) published Nuala’s third novel, Miss Emily, about the poet Emily Dickinson and her Irish maid. Miss Emily was shortlisted for the Bord Gáis Energy Eason Book Club Novel of the Year 2015 and longlisted for the 2017 International DUBLIN Literary Award. Nuala’s fourth novel, Becoming Belle, will be published in 2018.

www.nualaoconnor.com

 

The Rise of Irish Young Adult Fiction

To round off Reading Ireland Month, I have the brilliant Rachel from Confessions of a Book Geek to discuss Irish YA fiction. Led by Louise O’Neill, Irish authors are excelling in this genre. Not having read enough to comment, I asked Rachel along to share her expertise in the books to look out for!

 

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that our wee island has some pretty talented people. From Joyce, Wilde, Yeats, and Heaney, to Doyle, Binchy, Keyes, and Donoghue. As an avid reader, I’m always a little disappointed in myself that I don’t indulge in enough Irish literature, and it’s a promise I keep making that this year, I will.

2017 rolled around, and with it came another Reading Ireland Month, an event I was finally going to participate in. When looking around at the (many) unread books on my shelves, I realised I had a couple of Young Adult books by Irish authors, and decided to do a little more research to see what Irish writers are creating for the younger target market.

YA, or Young Adult literature, has seen an unprecedented boom in recent years – becoming one of the fastest growing and most lucrative genres in publishing. Therefore, I thought it was pretty reasonable to assume that there would be a plethora of YA literature by Irish authors… apparently not.

Not to worry, I did manage to come across a few corkers… and the odd dud. On to the books!

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

This 2015 debut won the Irish Bookseller’s Book of the Year award, and with good reason. O’Neill’s debut novel is a dystopian, with feminist undertones, that is sure to strike a chord with readers, both young and old(er). Many have compared this to Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale, which is surely praise indeed. Check out my full review of Only Ever Yours.

Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

O’Neill’s follow-up was even better than her debut, in my humble opinion. This book is complex, and sometimes dark, but so very, very important. Sexual assault, rape culture, and victim blaming, are all covered in this YA novel that has also been rereleased with a different cover for the adult fiction market. So strong were my feelings about this book, that I was prompted to write #NotAskingForIt. A must read for all ages and genders. Check out my full review of Asking For It.

Through the Barricades by Denise Deegan

I was pleasantly surprised by, and thoroughly enjoyed, this historical novel set in Dublin during the Easter Rising in 1916. I’m not entirely sure the author intended this work for a YA audience, but the two protagonists are teenagers for much of the novel, and though a great read for us grown ups, it would work equally well for a YA audience. She was willing to sacrifice everything for her country. He was willing to sacrifice everything for her. Check out my full review of Through the Barricades, and my Author Spotlight Interview with Denise Deegan.

Rockadoon Shore by Rory Gleeson

I was so excited when I saw this book. It looked modern and fresh, and the blurb was so enticing, but the execution was very disappointing, the plot practically non-existent, and the characters flat. If this is a realistic portrayal of Ireland’s youth, I’m concerned for the future of this country. I’m on the lookout for some really great Irish YA to make me forget that I trudged through what should really have been a DNF. Check out my full review of Rockadoon Shore.

Honourable Mentions

I read these books when I actually was a young adult, which was a few years ago now (cough), but I remember loving them, so thought I’d give them a little extra love.

The Switchers Trilogy by Kate Thompson

The Artemis Fowl Series by Eoin Colfer

Children of the Famine Series by Marita Conlon-McKenna

Do you have any great recommendations for Irish authors, particularly Irish YA? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to add more to my to-read list!

Many thanks to Rachel for this great YA round-up. Do check out her great blog!

No 594 The Miracle Shed by Philip MacCann

Whatever happened to Philip MacCann?’ is a phrase that crops up if you do even a cursory internet search of this elusive author. I’m not even sure if I am right to include MacCann in Reading Ireland Month as he is possibly not Irish.

Some sites say he was born in Belfast, more that he was born in Manchester. That he studied at Trinity College Dublin is fact though, along with the indisputable evidence that he was hailed as a new literary talent when his short story collection The Miracle Shed was published in 1995. Time Out called him ‘a totally original, new literary writer of intellectual power’ while the Observer mused ‘if I had to choose just one voice it would be Philip MacCann’s’. He won the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, and MacCann was named in The Observer newspaper’s list of ’21 Writers for the Twenty-First Century’ in 1999.

Despite this high praise, MacCann has never published another book. Some of his literary reviews can be found online, along with an article deriding much contemporary Irish fiction at the time and his thoughts on a writing class he took with Malcolm Bradbury, but aside from that, The Miracle Shed is all that we have.

Last year I wrote a piece on The Lonely Voice, Frank O’Connor’s seminal work on the nature of the short story. While discussing the differences between the novel and the short story, O’Connor notes that the e best short stories focus on ‘submerged groups’ – marginalised people who live at the fringes of society and have no effective voice.

That submerged population changes from writer to writer, from generation to generation … it does not mean mere material squalor, though this is often a characteristic of the submerged population groups. Ultimately it seems to mean defeat inflicted by a society that has no sign posts, a society that offers no goals and no answers

O’Connor could have written this specifically about The Miracle Shed which is filled with protagonists who are powerless and dispossessed, living on the fringes of society. The glue sniffers and drug addicts, the poor and the perverted. These are people who have internalised their pain, or who have numbed themselves from it. They are almost abstract characters who are presented with no external context, no back story. It is as if MacCann is opening doors just a chink for the reader to peer through, creating a strange voyeuristic experience when reading.

Each new tale drops the reader straight into the characters heads, which means all the narrators are unreliable most are also unlikeable as MacCann explores human degradation in all its forms, but he always maintain a sympathy for even the worst of the characters found here.

Although set principally in Dublin and Belfast, the geography of these stories is not the important thing. In Stories at El Hajibands, the action moves to Africa, while Love Marks in set in London. No matter what the location, the skies are heavy, the clouds ominous and the problems are the same. Although set in and around the Troubles, they don’t feature in these stories – for MacCann, the poor and the dispossessed could be living anywhere and doing anything to distract from the poverty and boredom of their lives.

Even something like love was a pigment on the world’s canvas like everything else, not at all transcendental or anything. It looked nice – like those hackneyed heavens – but it was basically grubby, and simply mass-produced. Some love was grubbier than others of course.

In Tender a man and boy sniff glue on the outskirts of Belfast, while in Street Magic, a young couple try to find work and get by in Dublin. At Freeform Joe’s, a group of young people try to find answers through a Ouija Board, while in the title story The Miracle Shed some fairground workers live in a hut and pass the time aimlessly working on a car and planning pipe dreams for a future that even they seem to know will never come. In the dreamlike , almost Beckettian Harvestman, we are inside the head of an old man as he takes out his rubbish from his flat. His stream of consciousness belies his own mental illness mingled with his fantasies about a young girl.

There is a strong sexual element to these stories, sometimes discomfiting, particularly in Dark Hour where a young boy is pimped out by his older brother for cash. The propriety of relationships is blurred, particularly in Naturally Strange, a wonderfully odd story where a teenage boy has to share a bed in a squalid flat with his pregnant mother. MacCann seems drawn to relationships that are taboo and if there is one way in which the book feels slightly dated is in it’s depiction of homosexuality, attitudes to which have changed drastically in the last 20 years.

Take beings. Beings need happiness. True? Take me. I am a being. I want salt. I want air. I want happiness. These are essentials for each and every day. Picture life without them. Life would be not as it should.

The bleakness of this collection, featuring so many lives being ‘not as they should’, is punctuated with some dry humour. In Grey Area, school boys enter into an ill-conceived plan to have their Latin teacher shot by paramilitaries in revenge for his teaching them a subject they hate. Their plot is merely a way to fill their time and alleviate their boredom and the lack of insight for the consequences of their actions belies the improbability of what they have tried to do.

A momentum developed , we goaded each other on, producing ever finer points, choosing the best day to strike; we even dreamed about the scheme and came in the next morning with divinely ministered details. And finally, and at last, when we held under our gaze a strategy, perfect and monstrous and unwanted, a baffled and ugly thing independent now, with its own life and unlovable demands, there was one moment of embarrassment when we each agreed silently, without saying a word more, to ignore it.

The writing in this collection is also incredibly beautiful, in comparison to the subject matter. The prose is vibrant, unexpected and lyrical and the style is elusive. A part of town is ‘freckled with oil stains and smelled of closing time‘ while a bad smell ‘was getting in the flat from the street, like the brightness gone bad‘. These stories are hard to pin down, there is always a subtext, an underlying atmosphere that is suggestive of impressionism rather than realism. The stories are meandering and dreamlike and ultimately hard to pin down.

His work reminds me of that of Carson McCullers or Denis Johnston, in so far as he, like them is giving voice to outsiders. The Miracle Shed is also reminiscent of Pat McCabe’s The Butcher Boy. Not that MacCann, I feel, would appreciate any comparisons.

Philip MacCann Irish Literature The Miracle Shed

Philip MacCann…possibly

These stories will not be to everyone’s taste. Tonally, all veer towards pessimism and deviance which can be draining if the collection is read as a single piece of work. However, the writing and the use of language is dazzling and totally unlike anything I have ever read and it is that ambition and uniqueness that is to be admired, even if it is hard to love.

A silent author is always a fascinating one – Harper Lee being a prime example, and it is interesting to note the theories that surround MacCann’s subsequent publishing silence. On one online message board, a contributor theorises that,

MacCann was a young member of a secret society related to the Knights Templar. He was ordered to desist from writing by his Grand Master.

Whatever the reasons for his retreat from publishing life, it now seems like a new work from Philip MacCann is as vague a dream as those of the characters in The Miracle Shed. He may prove me wrong. I would love  it if he did.

Read on: Book

Number Read: 153

Number Remaining: 593

No 596 All Names Have Been Changed by Claire Kilroy

Claire Kilroy’s third novel, All Names Have Been Changed is my first introduction to her work. Although her writing is well respected and her books highly regarded, it has been suggested that All Names Have Been Changed is not the best place to start. I may have to agree. This book didn’t put me off reading more of Kilroy’s work, but it didn’t fully work for me.

all names

From the very title, there is a suggestion that the book may be slightly autobiographical. Set in the 1980s in a Creative Writing Course at Trinity, it mirrors Kilroy’s own experience of attending the same school. Naming each chapter after a great work of Irish literature, plats and songs is a playful nodto Kilroy’s place in that canon and the book is certainly peppered with plenty of references to Irish writing.
This is a campus novel through and through. Structured in three parts to reflect the academic year, the book is narrated by Declan, the only male in a group of five mature students who have signed up to take a writing class with their literary hero, the infamous and celebrated PJ Glynn. To say that this group of wishful writers are in awe of Glynn would be an understatement.

We came because he called us. Glynn set down his words knowing they would mean nothing ton most, but everything to a few. We, those few, heard his siren song and followed it, having litte alternatice under theinhospitable circumstances. He wanted his art to be a dangerous force, alive. Well then, you might say he got what he asked for.

The esteem in which they hold this notoriously difficult writer is quasi-religious and can not be maintained and as the year passes, Glynn slips slowly but surely from the pedestal on which he as been placed by his students. Their slow discovery of the man behind the myth and the claustrophobic setting of the creative writing class allows the intense group dynamics to flourish, bloom and eventually wither as the year wears on.

artsblock1

The Arts Block at Trinity College Dublin

Glynn is a great character. Like Brendan Behan crossed with Shane MacGowan, he embodies that myth of drunken Irish writer, indulged and celebrated despite his behaviour which veers from patronising to charming to grotesque.

He was forever picking at himself, sniffing himself, tasting himself . . . in a perpetual swoon of fascination with his own detritus. ‘Glynn’s great subject was the self,’ wrote the New York Review of Books. Little did they know.

Unlike his adoring students, the reader sees a man who is never less than human despite his flaws. Kilroy creates and entire ouevre for her central character featuring novels, essays and interviews and what emerges is a fascinating, interesting man who becomes even more relatable as his ego deflates in the eyes iof his adoring students.

It’s a shame then that the other characters in the novel aren’t so well rounded. Declan and his four companions – troubled Aisling, snooty Antonia, worrier Faye and the beautiful Guinevere spend most of the year fighting for Glynn’s approval, forging friendships then testing them and of course, falling in love, but none of them come across as real people.

It also doesn’t help that very little happens here. This is not a plot driven book, but when your characters aren’t particularly strong then there is little for the reader to get their teeth into. They drink Guinness, start and scrap novels, sleep with each other and inevitably mess things up and it rains a lot. There is a pervading sense of tension and doom that never leads where you expect.

This is a book about emotions and mainly about looking back on those key moments in your youth that didn’t merit their own significance at the time.

I was young then and had no comprehension of the significance of proceedings, no grasp yet that such encounters were unique and unrepeatable, instead regarding all that occured as preludes to te main event. Life was an entity due to commence at some point in the future. That’s what I used to think.

Some of the best scenes in All Names Have Been Changed take place outside of the rareified halls of Trinity and the cosseted world of literature, as Declan strikes up an odd friendship with Gaz, a drug addict who lives in his block of flats. I found myself yearning for scenes between the two as they count among the best writing in the book and providing an interesting counterpoint between the two worlds co-existing in Dublin in the 80s.

claire kilroy

Kilroy does have some great inights into the nature of artisitc endeavour and the toll that the pressure of writing can take but the book at times feels over-written. During a romantic moment with Guinevere, Declan reflects on,

The force of her emotions. A shaft shot out of her into the heavens, another to the molten cosre of the Earth. I felt the true magnititude of her, caught a glimpse of her dimensions. All I can compare it to is how certain places, certain historical sites, connect you to the events that unfolded three centuries earlier.

Possibly Kilroy is lampooning Declan’s writerly aspirations here, but the descriptive passages can be tiring. Declan is a character who, when musing on a break up, thinks, ‘I was pleased with my pathetic fallacy if nothing else’, and it can make him a hard character to like. The level to which he is in thrall to Glynn is overwhelming, leaving a vacuum at the centre of his own character that serves to distance the reader.

That the moon was serene was yet another delusion. Had I thought that or read it in Glynn?

All Names Have Been Changed is a very literary novel. Kilroy clearly relishes language and the book is dense with literary allusions andself-concious references. The comparisons with The Secret History (campus setting, intellectual student and charismatic teacher) are inevitable but add nothing to understanding either book. Admittedly, it was my love of a campus novel that lead me to read this Claire Kilroy first. Despite being underwhelmed, I do plan to read more of her work. This one just fell flat for me.

 

Read on: Book

Number Read: 151

Number Remaining: 595

 

No 597 Good Behaviour by Molly Keane and a Giveaway!

good-behaviour

Good Behaviour was Molly Keane’s first book written under her own name despite having published many of her novels as MJ Farrell. She was almost 80 years old when she published the book in 1981 and it’s interesting to wonder why she waited so long to write as herself. Her friend, and editor, Diana Athill speaking to The Guardian had a clear idea.

 With Good Behaviour it was instantly clear to me that she ought to step forth as herself, and her own hesitation about it was very slight. Molly was essentially modest, but like all good writers she knew deep down that she was good. I think the shape her modesty took was simply not feeling that being a very good writer was all that important.

To say that Molly Keane is a good writer is an understatement and to say that Good Behaviour is a good book does it a great disservice. Good Behaviour is a great book, at turns funny and heartbreaking, with a searing dark humour, a keen satirical eye and a warm beating heart.

The novel is one long cri de coeur of Aroon St Charles, daughter and resident of the ‘big house’ Temple Alice, where she lives with her distant parents, beloved brother and assorted servants and where the only thing frowned upon is not adhering to the rules of good behaviour. Discretion is valued above all else in Aroon’s world, it is always necessary to do the right thing.

The book opens with what could be seen as a murder. Or a hastened death as Aroon’s mother passes away following an unfortunate encounter with a rabbit mousse. Aroon’s response to her mother’s death is what her response to all the tragedy in her life has been. She reverts to good behaviour.

I had time to consider how the punctual observance of the usual importances is the only way to behave at such times as these. And I do know how to behave –believe me, because I know. I have always known. All my life so far have done everything for the best reasons and the most unselfish motives. I have lived for the people dearest to me, and I am at a loss to know what their lives have been at times so perplexingly unhappy.

As Aroon, now 57, looks back on her life, her relationships and what has brought her to this point, Keane does something incredibly clever. Not only is Aroon an unreliable narrator, that is without doubt, but Keane allows her to tell the reader her story without Aroon ever understanding it herself. She is not trying to mislead us, it is she herself who is misled. Keane creates a scenario whereby reader and author are complicit and Aroon remains entirely in the dark.

Aroon adores her brother Hubert and falls in love with his friend Richard. It is clear to all that Hubert and Richard are the ones who are in love and they use Aroon to hide their secret. Aroon remains oblivious to the painful end, and following an unsatisfactory moment in bed with Richard, she falls back on what she knows best.

My anger and anxiety at the appalling noise he made getting back to his room suffocated and choked down a different sense in me; one of absolute loss. But we had both known how to behave. We had behaved beautifully. No pain lasts.

Aroon’s mother behaves in much the same way, steadfastly ignoring the fact that her husband is sleeping with the help and interacting with her children only when it is called for by society.

Mummie escaped us all. The tides of her painting and her gardening and the spring-tides of her whole life with Papa were as the sea between is – no step we took left a print in the sands.

Her neglect borders on the cruel and yet Keane uses a light touch, mining the dark laconic humour of the relationship between the two women.

“Dr Coffey never sends in his bill”

“That’s all you know. He charged ten pounds when you were born. It was quite a ridiculous price” She looked through me and back in to the past. “Nothing’s worth it”, she said.

It is easy to empathise with Keane’s anti-heroine. Aroon is too tall, too buxomy and too awkward for the society she lives in. Her mother’s neglect and her father’s easy charm have left her yearning for love and acceptance in a world that relies on surface appearance only. The need to behave at all times cripples her into not having any authentic feelings at all – not love, grief or loss. Throughout the book, everything from financial disaster to thwarted love to the sudden death is briefly acknowledged, then never spoken of again.

Our good behaviour went on and on, endless as the days. No one spoke pf the pain we were sharing. Our discretion was almost complete.

And yet Keane does not allow Aroon to be entirely sympathetic. She may have more of her mother in her than she realises, as is evident when despite the family’s failing financial situation, she turns down a proposal from a mere solicitor. Her lack of understanding does not stop at social situations and relationships, she has no understanding of herself either.

The reason I enjoy other people’s disasters is because they involve my understanding and sympathy in a way their successes never can. I like feeling genuine pity

This utter lack of awareness makes Aroon an appealing figure, but as the book progresses and her situation changes, the similarities with her mother become all the more evident and her good behaviour becomes a way of managing others and managing her own ever decreasing expectations.

by John Swannell, Iris print, 1983

Good Behaviour is beautifully written book and perfectly balances moments of bleak shock and sadness with sharp, dark humour. It is, at times, incredibly funny.

Mrs Brock went straight to the schoolroom lavatory, where she was overtaken by a violent diarrhoea. When she got off the mahogany seat to lift the D-shaped hand-fitting which swirled out the blue-flowered basin she sat down again at once “in case”, that tiny euphemism that covered so much so usefully

It is this balance that makes Good Behaviour such a wonderful novel. The ending is a tense as any thriller when the roles between mother and daughter spin on an axis and the final lines drive you right back to the beginning again, to re-read and seek out gems you may have missed.

Read on: Books

Number Read: 150

Number Remaining: 596

molly books.png

My first giveaway for Reading Ireland Month will be a copy of Good Behaviour and the recently published biography of Molly Keane by Sally Phipps.

Molly Keane had a fascinating life – like Aroon she was born into Anglo-Irish wealth and rode horses. Her early writing career as MJ Farrell saw her have great success on stage, as her plays were produced by John Gielgud. However, the untimely death of her husband led her to give up writing for over thirty years. Good Behaviour was her return and she was Booker-nominated for it – losing out to Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.

If you would like to win these books, simply comment below, or share this post on Twitter. I will post internationally and the competition will close on Monday 13 March when the winner will be chosen by Random Picker.

Good luck!

100 Books by Irish Women Writers

I found a big groove ready waiting for me when I grew up, and in that I was expected to live whether it suited me or not. It did not suit me. It was deep and narrow, and gave me no room to move.

Sarah Grand, 1893

When I started Reading Ireland Month three years ago, I pulled together a list of 100 Books by Irish authors. Since then, through reading and researching and particularly influenced by the publications of The Long Gaze Back and The Glass Shore, I have discovered a vast wealth of Irish women writers, many of whom have been entirely overlooked in the canon of Irish literature.

My original list contained around 40 women writers, but I had a feeling I could do better.

In celebration of International Women’s Day,  here is a list of 100 Irish women writers each of whom are fascinating and inspiring. Spanning three centuries and a range of genres, this list is by no means exhaustive and I’m aware that there are many writers I have left out. From Una Troy, whose feminist books were banned in Ireland, to Lady Caroline Blackwood, who is often better known as the wife of Lucien Freud and Robert Powell, these are memoirists, travel writers, children’s authors and journalists.

Many are writers who would undoubtedly be more widely read had they been male and all are worthy to be in any list of great Irish writers. If there is anyone you feel should have been included, please do let me know in the comments.

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Click on the book titles to go to the Goodreads, or other links and I do hope you find something or someone on this list who sparks your interest in terms of their writings and their lives.

  1. Memoirs of Miss Sidney Bidulph by Frances Sheridan (1761)
  2. The Sorrows of Edith by Anne Burke (1796)
  3. Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth (1800)
  4. The Missionary: An Indian Tale by Lady Sydney Morgan (1811)
  5. Leolin Abbey by Alicia LeFanu (1819)
  6. St. Etienne, a romance by Mary Letita Martin (1845)
  7. Fashionable Life under the Regency by Barbara Hemphill (1846)
  8. Marmaduke Herbert; or, The Fatal Error by Margeurite Gardiner (1847)
  9. Fanny the Flowergirl, or Honesty Rewarded by Selina Bunbury (1856)
  10. Granny’s Wonderful Chair by Frances Browne (1857)
  11. Queenie by May Cromellin (1874)
  12. The Uninhabited House by Charlotte Riddell (1875)
  13. The Nun of Kenmare by Margaret Anna Cusack (1889)
  14. Grania by Emily Lawless (1892)
  15. The Heavenly Twins by Sarah Grand (1893)
  16. Strangers at Lisconnel by Jane Barlow (1895)
  17. An Isle in the Water by Katharine Tynan (1896)
  18. The Gadfly by Ethel Lilian Voynich (1897)
  19. The Girls of Banshee Castle by Rosa Mulholland (1900)
  20. The Passionate Hearts by Ethna Carberry (1903)
  21. The Trackless Way by Erminda Rentoul Esler (1904)
  22. John Chilcote M.P by Katherine Thurston (1905)
  23. Hero Lays by Alice Milligan (1908)
  24. Coral Queen by Beatrice Grimshaw (1919)
  25. The Wonder Smith and his Son by Ella Young (1927)
  26. The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen (1929)
  27. The Ante-Room by Kate O’Brien (1936)
  28. An Old Woman’s Reflections by Peig Sayers (1936)
  29. My Cousin Justin by Margaret Barrington (1939)
  30. The Visitor by Maeve Brennan (194?)
  31. Farewell, Leicester Square by Betty Miller (1941)
  32. The Uninvited by Dorothy McArdle (1942)
  33. There Were No Windows by Norah Hoult (1944)
  34. White Satin by Jessie Louisa Rickard (1945)
  35. The Green Orchard by Maura Laverty (1949)
  36. Mary O’Grady by Mary Lavin (1950)
  37. We Are Seven by Una Troy (1955)
  38. The Rebel’s Wife by Rosamund Jacob (1957)
  39. The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien (1960)
  40. The Group by Mary McCarthy (1963)
  41. The Irish RM by Somerville and Ross (1968)
  42. For All That I Found There by Caroline Blackwood (1971)
  43. Across the Bitter Sea by Eilis Dillon (1973)
  44. Shadows on Our Skin by Jennifer Johnston (1977)
  45. In Ethiopia with a Mule by Dervla Murphy (1978)
  46. The Sandcastle by Irish Murdoch (1979)
  47. A Belfast Woman by Mary Beckett (1980)
  48. Good Behaviour by Molly Keane (1981)
  49. All of Us There by Polly Devlin (1983)
  50. The Maiden Dinosaur by Janet McNeill (1984)
  51. The House by Leland Bardwell (1984)
  52. Necessary Treasons by Maeve Kelly (1985)
  53. Very Like a Whale by Val Mulkerns (1986)
  54. No Country for Young Men by Julia O’Faolain (1987)
  55. My Head is Opening by Evelyn Conlon (1987)
  56. To School Through The Fields by Alice Taylor (1988)
  57. Dangerous Fictions by Ita Daly (1989)
  58. Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy (1990)
  59. Acts of Subversion by Liz McManus (1991)
  60. Damage by Josephine Hart (1991)
  61. The Light-Makers by Mary O’Donnell (1992)
  62. Titanic Town by Mary Costello (1993)
  63. Falling for a Dancer by Deirdre Purcell (1993)
  64. Watermelon by Marian Keyes (1995)
  65. Dancer by Christine Dwyer Hickey (1995)
  66. Fields of Home by Marita Conlon-McKenna (1996)
  67. Solomon’s Seal by Molly McCloskey (1997)
  68. One Day as a Tiger by Anne Haverty (1997)
  69. By Salt Water by Angela Bourke (1997)
  70. Pelleossa by Bridget O’Connor (1998)
  71. The Dancers Dancing by Eilis Ni Dhuibhne (1999)
  72. Publish and Be Murdered by Ruth Dudley Edwards (1999)
  73. The Walled Garden by Catherine Dunne (2000)
  74. An Grá Riabhach by Biddy Jenkinson (2000)
  75. My Dream of You by Nuala O’Faolain (2001)
  76. Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden (2003)
  77. Emma Brown by Claire Boylan (2003)
  78. P.S. I Love You by Cecilia Ahern (2003)
  79. Last to Know by Liz Allen (2004)
  80. The Alphabet Sisters by Monica McInerney (2004)
  81. This Human Season by Louise Dean (2005)
  82. The Gathering by Anne Enright (2007)
  83. The Sealed Letter by Emma O’Donoghue (2007)
  84. All Names Have Been Changed by Claire Kilroy (2009)
  85. The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell (2009)
  86. The Butterfly Cabinet by Bernie McGill (2010)
  87. The Burning by Jane Casey (2010)
  88. Foster by Claire Keegan (2010)
  89. The Meeting Point by Lucy Caldwell (2011)
  90. Malarky by Anakana Schofield (2012)
  91. Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent (2013)
  92. A Girl is a Half Formed Thing by Eimear McBride (2013)
  93. Malcolm Orange Disappears by Jan Carson (2014)
  94. Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill (2014)
  95. Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume (2015)
  96. Tender by Belinda McKeon (2015)
  97. Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor (2015)
  98. The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney (2015)
  99. The Trespasser by Tana French (2016)
  100. Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney (2017)

 

If I were a corncrake I would feel no obligation to have my skin cured, my tarsi injected with formalin so that I could fill a museum shelf in a world that saw no need for my kind.

Biddy Jenkinson

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent

Liz Nugent’s barnstorming page turner of a thriller, Lying in Wait, has a blistering opening line;

My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it

From here on, the tension never lets up as we learn that respected judge Andrew Fitzsimmons has murdered the aforementioned Annie and with the help of his wife Lydia, they have buried her in their garden. What follows is not your typical who dunnit – we know that already – but a why dunnit as we find out what has brought these respected members of society to this situation, and wonder will they get away with it?

As Andrew starts to crack under the pressure of his crime, his cool as ice, agoraphobic wife Lydia takes control, determined to protect her beloved son Laurence and her closeted, comfortable life in the family home – Avalon.

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The story is told through multiple narrative voices. Lydia, the cold matriarch, her passive, overweight son Laurence who starts to become obsessed with the missing girl and Karen Doyle – Annie’s sister, who is sure Annie did not just run away and will stop at nothing to find answers. Karen and Laurence meet by chance and as their relationship grows and Laurence begins to realise what his parents have done, the novel becomes a chess-like battle of wills between Laurence and his domineering mother.

Lydia is a wonderful character – complex and compelling, both without pity, but still to be pitied. Holed up in her fortress of Avalon, with its beautiful gardens, privacy and fading opulence, she is a woman who is used to getting what she wants. As the family fortune starts to dwindle and her chance to have a second child disappears, her actions set off a domino effect, which will cause havoc for all involved.

Another striking character in the book is the setting itself. Avalon, Lydia’s childhood home is reminiscent of Manderlay in du Maurier’s Rebecca. Lydia idolizes the childhood she has spent there, but Nugent slowly shows how the house itself manifests the pain and turmoil that drive her present day motivations.

Avalon is her prison as much as her refuge and although the setting for the novel is the 1980s, the book takes on a fairy tale quality, with Lydia, the evil queen doing all she can to protect her reputation and keep her son by her side. She is a fabulous villain, over the top and unforgettable but Nugent is clever enough to provide an explanation for her darkness. The gothic undertones create a narrative that demands the suspension of disbelief, as the twists and turns lead the reader to a horrifying ending of dysfunction and warped self-preservation.

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Liz Nugent really knows how to ratchet up the tension and the book is well plotted and paced. The influence of Nugent’s work as a script writer for RTE soap Fair City is well in evidence here and a television or film adaptation may be in the not too distant future. In a style reminiscent of Harlan Coben, this is a book to be read in the least number of sittings possible. Once you think you have a handle on where the narrative might be going, Nugent upends everything with twist after twist.

The book also has interesting things to say about female sexuality, motherhood and mental illness and has a rich supporting cast of characters that create a believable landscape for the sometimes unbelievable plot.

Lying in Wait has taken the Irish literary world by storm, winning the RTÉ Radio 1’s The Ryan Tubridy Show Listeners’ Choice Award 2016 at the Irish Book Awards. No doubt do the same in the UK now that is has been chosen as one of Richard and Judy’s Book Club picks. She has just signed a deal with a US publisher and the release of Lying in Wait along with her first novel Unravelling Oliver in the States in 2018 will further cement her reputation.

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