Irish Fiction

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Billy Keane (The Last of the Heroes) returns to our bookshelves with The Ballad of Mo & G, a dark comedy set during the post-boom hangover.

New Irish FIction: The Ballad of Mo & G

The Ballad of Mo & G by Billy Keane (Liberties Press)

Mo and G are friends from college. She (Mo) is very bright but lacking in confidence after growing up in one of the worst part of the city. He (G) is also clever, but as he’s a physically small and unassertive man, he can never be one of the lads – in fact, he doesn’t even seem to deserve a full name! They love each other, but he never has the guts to tell her that he’s in love with her. Predictably, she ends up pregnant by a criminal psychopath (Dermo), married to him, and living in ‘the compound,’ his family’s sprawling rural hideaway – a “muddy yard like a bombed convoy.”  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 »

Paul Lynch’s ambitious debut novel, Red Sky in Morning, aims to examine the current historical moment through a mythic lens.

Red Sky in Morning by Paul Lynch (US cover: Little, Brown)

Red Sky in Morning by Paul Lynch
(US cover: Little, Brown)

Beginning in 1832, we watch as a young Irishman, Coll Coyle, tries to prevent his family from being evicted by a brutal landlord. A fight ensues, and the landlord is killed. Our young hero is forced on the run across the mountains and bogs of Donegal, to the bustling port of Derry, and thence to America. He’s pursued by Faller, the landlord’s brutal enforcer, who opts not to involve the constabulary (as he puts it), but to track down and kill Coll himself (along with almost everyone Coll comes in contact with).  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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Michèle Forbes’ debut novel Ghost Moth contrasts a Belfast newly emerging from WWII, a city of possibility, with the same city twenty years later, fast succumbing to the start of “the troubles.”

Ghost Moth by Michèle Forbes

Ghost Moth by Michèle Forbes (US cover)

Ghost Moth, the first novel by Irish actress Michèle Forbes, is just magnificent. Focusing on one family and the secrets they keep, the novel jumps back and forth in time between 1949, when Katherine Fallon is about to get engaged to George Bedford, and 1969, when they are long-married with four children and living in a Belfast exploding with violence and hatred.

Katherine is pushed into a remembrance of things past when she almost drowns while swimming at the beach with her family. This causes her to withdrawn from her husband — with whom she has a companionable, if not emotionally intimate, relationship — and retreat into her memories of an affair she had with another man while being courted by George. 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 »

Nuala Ní Chonchúir excels at the difficult form of short fiction known as flash fiction. Her new book is a collection of these ultra-short pieces, Of Dublin and Other Fictions.

Of Dublin and Other Fictions by Nuala Ní Chonchúir (Tower Press)

Of Dublin and Other Fictions by Nuala Ní Chonchúir (Tower Press)

Nuala Ní Chonchúir’s new collection of short stories comes out this week, and it’s a little different from the norm: both in terms of her previously published work and the conventions of the short story market; Of Dublin and Other Fictions is a chapbook of flash fiction.  It’s not that Ní Chonchúir hasn’t published flash fiction before — in fact, that’s what she’s known for, having picked up a prize or two for her frequently profound and funny stories — but a collection of flash fiction by a single author is practically unheard of. So, my initial thought was, how to approach the book; is reading a collection of flash fiction more akin to reading a poetry collection or a collection of short stories? Read the rest of this entry »

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