April book of the month shortlist: modern Irish novels
Ireland, an island of just under 6 million people, has made a disproportionately large contribution to world literature, including four Nobel Prize winners. But it isn't all Joyce, Yeats and Heaney.
Each of our four contemporary authors this month has recently been nominated for the Booker Prize, and each has tackled vastly different subjects. Whatever it is about Ireland that produces such prodigious creative talent, it is definitely in full flow right now.
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
This outstanding novel was picked as their Book of the Year by dozens of writers, and it deserves every accolade. The surface simplicity reveals vast depths of emotional and psychological complexity, leaving you utterly gripped and profoundly moved. Eilis is a young Irish girl who leaves her family and small town life for opportunity in America. As life begins to take shape in Brooklyn, and Eilis starts to fall in love, a tragedy pulls her back home and leaves her with a terrible dilemma. Toibin's ability to craft such an engaging, complex, wholly real female character is miraculous. The book is elegant, controlled, quietly devastating, beautifully crafted, tender and engrossing. Winner of the 2009 Costa Novel Award.
Critics say: "Socially fascinating, suffused with humane depth, funny, affecting, deftly plotted and written with a subtlety that packs powerful effects into simple-seeming prose, this is a novel of magnificent accomplishment." The Sunday Times
Not Untrue and Not Unkind by Ed O'Loughlin
Written by a former Irish Times foreign correspondent, this is a debut novel brimming with confidence. In Dublin, a newspaper editor called Cartwright is found dead. One of his colleagues, Owen Simmons, discovers a dossier on Cartwright's desk. And in the dossier Owen finds a photograph, which brings him back to a dusty road in Africa and to the woman he once loved. Set among a group of self-absorbed hacks who chase from one human tragedy to the next in search of a good story, it is, says O'Loughlin, 'about a community, a small group of people who work together and travel together and occasionally get off with each other. It's a love story set in a community.' Longlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize, it has a rare combination of raw detail and beautiful imagery.
Critics say: "Fantastic writing, great subject; a voice that is both passionate and cold. The most exciting first novel I have read in many years." Anne Enright
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry
Told through the journals of Roseanne McNulty and her psychiatrist Dr Grene, the story that emerges - of Roseanne's family in 1930s Sligo - is at once shocking and deeply beautiful. Refracted through the haze of memory and retelling, Roseanne's story becomes an alternative, secret, history of Ireland. Exquisitely written, it is the story of a life blighted by terrible mistreatment and ignorance, and yet marked still by love and passion and hope. Shortlisted for the 2008 Booker Prize, and winner of the 2008 Costa Book Award.
Critics say: "A tremendous entertainment ... a gorgeous patchwork of luminous anecdotes, hidden truths and necessary fictions." Observer
The Story of Lucy Gault by William Trevor
William Trevor is the grand master of quietly devastating prose. In Lucy Gault he finds his perfect subject. The events that shape Lucy's tragedy begin one night in 1921, during an arson attack. A series of chance events, made effortlessly believable by the calm of Trevor's telling, lead her parents to believe that Lucy has drowned and, destroyed, they travel far from Ireland to escape their grief. Trevor's writing is so simple and poised, his understanding of essential human psychology so sure, that he explores every emotional undercurrent with the fewest of words. A profilic writer, he has published over 45 books, including plays and short stories, and this novel was shortlisted for the 2002 Booker Prize.
Critics say: "A thoughtful and eloquent undertaking, written with all Trevor's grace and finesse." Independent
Vote for your choice by Sunday 28 March and then join our book club discussion on Tuesday 27 April at 8pm.
Last updated: almost 2 years ago