A happy Saint Patrick’s Day to one and all on March 17, and for this week’s blog, I decided to choose five of my favourite books by Irish writers, with the stories also set in Ireland.
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha: Roddy Doyle
This is my favourite Roddy Doyle novel, and the one which won Booker Prize for the author back in 1993. After the Barrytown Trilogy, this could be seen as Doyle’s first ‘serious’ novel, although there is still plenty of humour in the book. Set in Dublin of the late 1960s, it tells the story of ten-year-old Paddy Clarke and the events which happen in his life – on the streets with his friends and siblings, at school and in the home. Like much of Doyle’s work, the narrative is dialogue-driven, and getting Paddy’s voice absolutely perfect ensures a wonderful read.
Ireland A Novel: Frank Delaney
This is a brilliant book, one of those that you can’t put down but then mourn when it’s finished. When Ronan O’Mara is just nine-years-old, a storyteller turns up at his home. In return for food and lodgings for three nights, the storyteller – the last in a centuries-old tradition – provides magical tales of kings and saints. Ronan is captivated, and for the rest of his life, searches on and off for the elusive storyteller. It’s a wonderful book, and tells the history of Ireland as much as it’s a personal story of Ronan’s life.
Amongst Women: John McGahern
It was the Tricolour emblazoned on the front cover which first caught my eye, and it really was a case of judging the book by its cover. The novel centres of Michael Moran, now an elderly man, and the relationships he has with the women in his life – his second wife and his daughters. Once a prominent Republican, who found in the war of independence in the 1920s, Moran was also a domineering figure in the family, although as he weakens physically, that position shifts and changes. Amongst Women is a brilliant portrayal of a Catholic family in rural Ireland, and of the politics of the nation.
The Butcher Boy: Patrick McCabe
This is a deceptively dark and brutal story of a schoolboy in 1960s Ireland, Francie Brady, who retreats into a violent fantasy world as his troubled home life collapses. What makes the novel all the more powerful is that Francie as narrator is engaging, entertaining and almost likeable. We get drawn into his tough and sometimes heartbreaking world, which makes what happens in the book all the more shocking. The book was also turned into an excellent film, which saw Sinead O’Connor appear as Our Blessed Lady. Read the book and then watch the film. You’ll enjoy both.
Cal: Bernard MacLaverty
Scotland sometimes tries to claim Bernard MacLaverty for ourselves, given that he has resided on this side of the water for many years, but he’s Belfast born and this superb novel is set in the north during the Troubles. Published in 1983, it has also become a regular book on the school syllabus. The story concerns Cal, who was the getaway driver during an IRA operation in which a police officer was killed. To complicate matters, he finds himself falling in love with the policeman’s widow. Cal is a powerful and poetic book, and well worth reading.
My new book, Read All About It: My Year Of Falling In Love With Literature, is out now and is available to buy on Amazon.