~This post was first published March 12, 2012.Read Your Way Around the World invites you to Ireland. Ireland, though a small island, has made a huge contribution to western literature with the likes of Jonathan Swift (M), Oscar Wilde (M), James Joyce (M) and W.B. Yeats (M). The twentieth century has seen writers emerge from the working class expressing ideas about political power, Catholicism and human suffering, always with a strong sense of place and often with a biting humour.
Sample recent examples of well-established Irish writers from the selection below.
John Banville (M) has been winning literary prizes for about five decades, beginning with the Allied Irish Banks Prize for his novel Birchwood in 1973 and most recently the 2011 Franz Kafka Prize, which is awarded to a writer for the "quality and exclusivity of the artwork, its humanistic character and contribution to cultural, national, language and religious tolerance, its existential, timeless character, its generally human validity and its ability to hand over a testimony about our times."
Banville is known for character-driven, lyrical writing that delves into psychological issues and relationships. His most recent novel is The Infinities. "On a languid midsummer’s day in the countryside, the Godley family gathers at the bedside of Adam, a renowned mathematician and their patriarch. But they are not alone in their vigil. Around them hovers a clan of mischievous immortals—Zeus, Pan, and Hermes among them —who begin to stir up trouble for the Godleys, to sometimes wildly unintended effect." - publisher
For me, Irish writing will always mean Roddy Doyle (M). Having grown up in St. John's it's easy to relate to dialect rich Barrytown Trilogy with its working class cast of characters. Despite the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed the first in the trilogy, The Commitments, I enjoyed the movie version even more. (In fact, I will place it on hold right now. It's time to watch it again.) Doyle's novels have a strong sense of place with the barrenness of working class Dublin in The Barrytown Trilogy and tackle dark and moving topics with sensitivity and perception, such as the domestic abuse in The Woman Who Walked Into Doors.
Bullfighting (M) is a recent book of short stories which again examines life in modern Ireland. Library Journal says of this collection: "Doyle's storytelling brilliance is evident on every page of this work. His exploration of how history shapes individual lives is particularly rewarding here, and many characters mention living through church scandals, the heady days of the Celtic Tiger, and two recessions. Their equilibrium, suggests Doyle, balances on shared suffering and hopes that resist these turbulences."
Many of Brian Moore's (M) novels were set in Belfast during the The Troubles. Though he later emigrated to Canada, Moore knew Belfast well, growing up there in the mid-twentieth century. His novels range from humorous, to suspense thrillers to love stories.
One of his best regarded books is The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne. "Alone in her room in a Belfast boarding house, Judith Hearne is almost overwhelmed by loneliness. Yet she still believes there is a chance for happiness, and she waits patiently for the moment when her life will turn from sorrowful longing to joy. By chance she meets a man – the man – and her dreams take on a brighter hue, only to be dashed once more.With skill and gentle insight, Moore depicts the disintegration of Judith Hearne’s last illusions. Clinging to the bottle for comfort, she becomes a tragic figure who speaks frankly about the human condition. Though we laugh at her foibles, we weep at her plight, and share her primal longing for love and connection." - publisher. Brian Moore died in 1999
Despite the fact that Colm Toibin (M) has been publishing for many years, I first became aware of him with his 2004 The Master, a fictionalized biography of Henry James (M). For this novel, Toibin won or was nominated for a number of awards, including the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Booker Prize. Toibin grew up in Wexford, descended from politically active members of the IRA. The Heather Blazing (out of print, ask library staff for interlibrary loan), a follow-up novel to The South, is set in Enniscorthy in the south of Ireland. Remote and cold, retired judge Eamon Redmond, returns to his childhood home and reflects on his life, past and present, to come to terms with his failing family relations. Toibin's novels are character-driven and examine Irish society focusing on the nature of personal identity.
Maeve Binchy (M) is a gentler, perhaps less vigorous read than the preceding writers. Her stories have a warmth to them that draws the reader in. She manages to create an emotional connection with her characters that make her novels difficult to put down. Binchy began publishing in the 80's and came to international recognition when her novel Circle of Friends was made into a movie in 1995. Binchy's career received a further boost when Oprah chose Tara Road for her book club in1999. Most of Binchy's character-driven novels can be grouped together as exploring women's lives and relationships. Many of her books are set in Irish cities, but generally have a neighbourhood feel to them.
Her latest is Minding Frankie "Baby Frankie is born into an unusual family. Her mother is desperate to find someone to take care of her child and she doesn't have much time. Noel doesn't seem to be the most promising of fathers but despite everything, he could well be Frankie's best hope. As for Lisa, she is prepared to give up everything for the man she loves; surely he's going to love her back? And Moira is having none of it. She knows what's right, and has the power to change the course of Frankie's life . . . but Moira is hiding secrets of her own. MINDING FRANKIE is a story about unconventional families, relationships which aren't quite what they seem, and the child at the heart of everyone's lives . . ." - publisher