Next on my list in Irish Week: Literature. Which ties in nicely with the fact that it’s World Book Day today. However, it does not tie in so nicely with Mr A or Pilgrimage, other than saying he seems to be a reader. Mostly connected to his research, though, and for that purpose we have already been given plenty of reading tips from Pilgrimage‘s scriptwriter, Jamie Hannigan. But *should* Mr A want to indulge into some unconnected reading pleasures, “Ciontach” has another
totally subjective list of recommendations at the ready.
The Irish have – yet again – an astounding wealth of literary culture and heritage for a country so small. Four literature Nobel laureates (Yeats, Shaw, Beckett, Heany) and a thriving literary scene, many unawarded literary heavy-weights. Where does it come from? Well, the Irish have a way with words. Or as they say themselves “the gift of the gob”. Where does it come from? Maybe it is the strong oral tradition of the Gaelic, or even the enforced bilingualism due to colonisation? Or perhaps they have only just all kissed the Blarney Stone…
I won’t even mention the obvious must-reads here; they are part of the canon, anyway. Contemporary Irish literature is more accessible than most of the “classic” Irish books, and continues to fascinate and enthrall with their offerings. In order to cut an endless list short, I’ve broken it down into four categories: Irish on Irish Topics, Irish Factual, Irish on Non-Irish Topics, and Light Entertainment. Here are my recommendations:
First shot to prominence in the late 1980s with his Dublin trilogy, particularly The Commitments which was made into an internationally successful film in 1991 of the same name. Doyle’s stories are always set in Dublin, charting the Irish capital at the turn of the 21st century almost as well as Joyce did a century earlier. His characters are *real*, they are typically Irish “chancers”, quick of the tongue, inventive, resourceful people, his plots always interesting, and his stories ultimately Irish. My favourite book of his is A Star Called Henry, the first part of a trilogy that follows Henry Smart from his childhood in the Dublin slums in the early 1900s until his involvement in the Easter Rising and the war of independence. (Part 2 and 3 follow on through the decades.) Although accessibly written, Doyle received recognition of his literary talent when he won the Booker prize in 1993 with Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (incidentally the one book that I never got into…) If you want to read about contemporary Ireland, Doyle is the go-to man.
Ok, let’s get the trivia out of the way first: Joe O’Connor is singer Sinead O’Connor’s brother. But he is a well-known writer in his own right, focussing on Ireland in his writing, and doing so in a fluid, often humourous style (a bit like Roddy Doyle). While he is best known for his novels – he’s tried all genres, from initiation story (Cowboys and Indians) via thriller (Inishowen) to historical novels (The Star of the Sea) – I particularly love his early non-fiction writing. The Secret World of the Irish Male (1994) is a collection of short essays/columns on the quirks and habits of Irish men – and is laugh-out-loud funny, whether you *know* Irish lads or not.
McCann’s topics are not Irish. Maybe that is because he has been living outside of his country of birth for twenty years, currently residing in New York? But his books are stunning. His novel Dancer is based on the life of Rudolf Nureyev and stunning, even for non-dancers ;-). In Let the Great World Spin he wove several story lines into one compelling plot, all set in New York. His latest, Transatlantic (2013) uses a similar strategy of interweaving stories that are all held together by the first trans-Atlantic crossing by plane – from New Foundland to Connemara (!) – and has therefore more of an Irish touch to it.
Ireland can do fluffy pretty well, too. Although that is an unfair label to put on Maeve Binchy. Despite writing the Irish version of Rosamunde Pilcher, her stories and characters are well-developed and rounded. No smut, though – things are kept firmly above the waistline. That doesn’t take away from her stories, though – her books are a pleasant way of spending an evening or two. She’s the mother of chick-lit, in my book, and many of her novels have actually made it to film. I really enjoyed Scarlett Feather but really, all her novels feature strong heroines who find themselves in challenging situations.
Hamilton is put in here just for the resonance of his background with my own life. Growing up in 1950s Ireland with an Irish father and a German mother, Hamilton was acutely aware of his outsider status. This was even heightened by the fact that his strict and nationalist father insisted on bringing up Hugo and his brother exclusively speaking Irish – which made them stand out even more in the English-speaking environments of South County Dublin. His autobiography The Speckled People is equally funny as sad – the speckled people refer to himself and his siblings as speckled by their mixed nationality.
Sorry for the dearth of women writers in this list. These were the five Irish contemporary writers that came immediately to my head without any prompting, and they happen to be mainly men. I’ve also left out all the playwrights, the poets, the classic authors, but otherwise the list would be endless.
To get back to Mr A now, I have a little bonus recommendation up my sleeve. Unfortunately it does not concern an Irish writer, but his topic is both Irish *and* medieval to boot. In that sense it may vaguely serve as research – but an extremely entertaining one. Pilgrimage is billed as a thriller, but a medieval who-dunnit may come closest to that: The Sister Fidelma series by Peter Tremayne is set in the early middle-ages (yeah, I know, a bit too early for Pilgrimage) and follows the eponymous nun on her hunt for the perpetrators of crimes. The first in the series Absolution by Murder sees Sister Fidelma track the killer of her abbess. The series now comprises 25 books, another one is due out this year. Tremayne is a historian by degree, which gives his books a nicely authentic touch.
I’m off myself now, celebrating World Book Day with a little trip to the local book store, brought on by recently reading Ian McEwan’s latest (The Children Act – bloody brilliant!) and realizing how much I have been missing. I’m trying to get back into bookworm mode – I have not read enough in the last three years. Hm, funny, that seems to coincide with the sudden appearance of a particular person on my RAdar… Good thing that I have already ordered Edith Wharton’s Summer. I hear that is pretty hot?
If I have made you curious about any of the
recommended mentioned books and you are thinking of buying them, please consider ordering them via RAnet’s Amazon links. Ali donates the accrued referral fees to Richard’s sponsored charities on a regular basis. She has donated the amazing sum of almost 7,000£ (9,000€ or 10,300$) since February 2012!!! Go raibh maith agat (thanks) to all of you!
Happy World Book Day, everyone!!! ❤