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White Feathers is a suspense-filled new novel about mis-matched lovers separated by the horrors of WWI.

White Feathers

White Feathers by Susan Lanigan (O’Brien Press)

Susan Lanigan’s debut novel White Feathers opens in 1913, as 17-year-old Eva Downey escapes her suffocating family to attend a finishing school for one year. Eva is full of the passions and principles of adolescence, and has been getting involved with the suffragettes, much to the horror of her deeply conservative family. Her family are Irish; her father a relatively well-to-do accountant who has moved the family from Cork to London escape both scandal and the sadness of Eva’s mother’s death. Read the rest of this entry »

The Undertaking by Audrey Magee is a highly anticipated debut novel by an Irish journalist about a German couple who marry, sight unseen, during WWII.

US Cover for The Undertaking

US Cover for The Undertaking

Right off the bat I should say that I am fascinated by WWII, always have been, and I’ve read more books about the conflict than I care to remember. So, I was impressed that Magee found an angle on the conflict — the experiences of two ordinary Germans who marry during the war, are together for about 3 weeks, before he returns to the Russian front — that hasn’t been overly exploited and told many times before. Read the rest of this entry »

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! The new novel by Roddy Doyle, The Guts, has just been released in the US, and it’s a treat comparable to hitting the town for Paddy’s Day drinks — but without the sore head in the morning!

The Guts by Roddy Doyle (US hardcover: Viking)

The Guts by Roddy Doyle (US hardcover: Viking)

One of the best antidotes to homesickness for the recently (or not-so-recently)  emigrated Irish person is a Roddy Doyle novel. Told almost entirely in dialogue, reading Doyle is like stepping into your local for a quick one (or at least into a local in Dublin) the sights and sounds of messy, noisy Dublin life surround you, and you can hear each voice distinctly.  Read the rest of this entry »

Musician Danny Ellis’s memoir of growing up in Ireland’s notorious Artane Industrial School, The Boy at the Gate, is a triumph of forgiveness over bitterness.

boy at the gate

The Boy at the Gate by Danny Ellis (US cover, Arcade)

Growing up in Ireland, I was very aware of the The Artane Boys Band. It was famous throughout the country, called upon to play at every important occasion: St. Patrick’s Day parades, state occasions and football finals. But the school that formed the band — the Artane Industrial School, an infamous orphanage run by the Christian Brothers — had been closed since 1969, its history largely forgotten. The band endured after the school was shut down. In his book, The Boy at the Gate, local author Danny Ellis refers to the Artane Boys Band as “a diamond forged in the fires of hardship and misfortune,” an example of how music helps people through troubled times. Read the rest of this entry »

Keith Ridgway’s fifth novel, Hawthorn & Child, is set in a London milieu of criminals and detectives that seems superficially familiar by virtue of decades of TV drama. His novel, however, is far more interesting and unpredictable.

Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway (US cover: New Directions)

Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway (US cover: New Directions)

Hawthorn & Child has attracted great acclaim from other writers. While it’s always better to be suspicious of any positive praise from one writer to another, in this case the blurbing writers highlight the main thing that makes this novel great: its glorious strangeness. Zadie Smith calls it “idiosyncratic and fascinating;” Ian Rankin declares it “brilliantly weird.” Both are absolutely correct. Hawthorn & Child is one deliciously weird confection.  Read the rest of this entry »

Anakana Schofield takes a lot of risks with her debut novel, Malarky, telling the story of one woman’s midlife crisis and sexual adventures.

Malarky by Anakana Schofield review

Malarkey by Anakana Schofield (Biblioasis)

In Malarky, a rural Irish mammy discovers her college-age son is gay (by blundering across several of his assignations with other men — which she then can’t bring herself to stop watching — and then struggles to come to terms with it. (A not uncommon struggle, I have no doubt.) At the same time, a woman comes up to her in town and describes how our protagonist’s husband likes to have sex, in great detail. So, “Our Woman” must come to terms with her son’s homosexuality and at the same time she must decide if her husband is actually being unfaithful with the town madwoman. Read the rest of this entry »

Colin Barrett’s Young Skins is the latest debut short story collection from Stinging Fly Press to garner a lot of attention and plaudits. And once again, Stinging Fly has launched a young writer well worth reading.

Review of Young Skins by Colin Barrett

Young Skins: Stories by Colin Barrett (Irish Cover)

Young Skins opens with two guys in a pub, and most of the stories in this collection revolve around a similar dynamic. Sharing pints makes individuals reflective and these stoic, silent men open up as much as they can, which is very little, over a few drinks. The type of character that inhabits these stories is the twenty- or thirty-something small-town Irish Catholic male, the guy who didn’t have the points to go to college or the guts to flee to Australia, the man who stayed where he grew up because he had few other choices or else was deathly afraid of change. Colin Barrett knows these people inside out.

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Lorna Sixsmith is at the forefront of a new wave of blogging farmers who are changing the perception of agricultural life in Ireland. Her first book, Would You Marry a Farmer? showcases the richness and diversity of rural life.

Would You Marry a Farmer? by Lorna Sixsmith

Would You Marry a Farmer? by Lorna Sixsmith

Would You Marry a Farmer? started life as a humorous post on her popular blog, Irish Farmerette. Her truthful and affectionate take on the pros and cons of marrying into such an all-consuming way of life touched a chord in a country where nearly everyone had farmers somewhere back in the family tree. After a successful crowd-funding campaign to prove the demand for the book (farmer’s are eminently practical) she expanded that initial post into a book exploring the ups and downs of modern farm life. I picked up the book expecting something in the nature of a humorous gift-book: a light-hearted distraction with a grounding of good sense;  but, I found a much richer story. Read the rest of this entry »

Ciarán Collins’ debut novel, The Gamal, won the 2013 Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. It’s one of the most-impressive debut novels in years.

The gamal a novel

The Gamal, by Ciarán Collins

The Gamal is narrated by a young man, Charlie, who tells us from the off that we won’t like him. He’s blunt, undiplomatic, and prefers to use photographs rather than describe places. He’s writing the book unwillingly, as an account of a tragedy that occurred some years previously, at the behest of his psychiatrist, a man of whom he doesn’t think very highly. Charlie is known as the gamal, a short form of Gamalóg, an Irish word for a simpleton, so we embark on the book understanding that Charlie is regarded as somewhat mentally deficient by his community. He’s also undergoing treatment for some form of post-traumatic-stress-disorder, presumably as the result of the tragedy looming in the recent past. Read the rest of this entry »

I’m reading Graham Robb’s fascinating new book about rediscovering the ancient roadways of the continental Celtic world (it’s called The Discovery of Middle Earth in the US, and The Ancient Paths in Ireland and the UK) and I’ll review it soon) and interviewing another author for an article I’m going to post next week, so time is short right now. Here are some links to interesting new archaeological discoveries relating to Ireland and the ancient Celtic world in lieu of a longer post to get the week off to a good start.

County Kerry Snails: Early Immigrants from Central Europe

Cepaea Nemoralis (Wikimedia Commons, Photo: Michael Gäbler)

Cepaea Nemoralis (Source: Wikimedia Commons, Photo: Michael Gäbler)

Geneticists studying Irish snails have discovered a species in Co. Kerry which is directly related to snails in Europe. Cepaea nemoralis or Grove Snails, are not related to any other snail found in Ireland, but instead hail from the Pyrennes, and seem to have first appeared in Ireland 8000 years ago, along with the first continental Europeans. It’s thought these snails were deliberately brought as a delicacy, rather than being accidental passengers. This would have been before the land bridge connecting Ireland to Europe at the end of the last ice age was submerged and washed away. We Irish have rather lost the taste for snails since then.

Read more at Archaeology.org…

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