Here are my picks of ten great books of Irish fiction published in 2016 that I’ve read this year. I know there are a bunch of books by Irish authors that I missed out on so if you have a favourite Irish book which doesn’t appear on my list let me know about it in the comments below. I’ve always felt drawn towards Irish literature. I don’t know if this is because the entire mother’s side of my family are Irish-Americans or if it’s just because the Irish are incredible writers, but whatever the case I often read a high proportion of Irish literature. So here are my ten choices in no particular order and you can click on the titles to read my full reviews of each book.
The Glass Shore edited by Sinead Gleeson
It's wonderful that Gleeson has followed editing her tremendous anthology The Long Gaze Back with this new book which specifically focuses on women writers from the north of Ireland. The anthology moves by chronology of the authors' birth to span over two centuries of distinct stories – some of which relate directly to the region they come out of and others which are set other places. You can watch me discussing this and other great books of short stories from 2016 here.
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack
McCormack's style may be reminiscent of Samuel Beckett for artfully capturing the untamed thoughts of his character, but his voice is wholly his own. The novel gets the mood and perspective of an average Irish man at a certain time so perfectly that it's mesmerizing to read.
Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan by Ruth Gilligan
This absorbing novel tells three distinct stories set in different points of a century: a girl named Ruth whose family has newly arrived in Ireland, mute teenager Shem living in a mental health facility and journalist Aisling who considers converting to Judaism for her partner Noah. These tales are slyly connected and form a touching overall impression of the Jewish experience in Ireland. It's a forceful and intelligent novel.
The Lonely Sea and Sky by Dermot Bolger
I had never really considered Ireland's precarious political state during WWII before reading this, but Bolger's novel based on a real historical incident brings the issue poignantly to life. It's the story of a young boy who becomes a sailor out of necessity and how his ship chose to save German sailors stranded in the water one fateful day in 1943. It's a gripping, emotional tale.
The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
It's a bit of a cheat choosing this novel which was first published in 2015, but it only came out in the States for the first time in 2016. This year has also really been good for McInerney as she won both the Baileys Prize and the Desmond Elliott Prize. It's a tale of a group of loosely-connected individuals in modern day Cork whose lives are adversely affected by the country's social systems and religious traditions. It's a tremendously powerful novel.
The Maker of Swans by Paraic O’Donnell
Part of what makes new Irish fiction so exciting to follow is the ceaselessly inventive and daring writing style of its authors. O'Donnell's story of a remote grand house run by a mysterious Mr Crowe, his mute ward Clara and a butler named Eustace has its own logic. It's fantastically inventive in a way which gets at new meaning and poignant emotions not accessible in more traditional fiction.
All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan
Donal Ryan is one of the best writers working today. His stories are told with such precision that they make extraordinarily forceful reading experiences. This novel may be his most perfect yet as it relates the story of narrator Melody who has become pregnant by a younger man who is not her husband. It's a tale told with a lot of heart and wisdom that also shows a section of Irish society not often seen.
Inch Levels by Neil Hegarty
Things which are left unsaid in families have the ability to adversely affect individuals over a lifetime. This skilful debut novel about a terminally-ill man named Patrick and his troubled family shows how generations of silence conceal personal hopes and pain. Partially set against the violence of political change in Northern Ireland, this story is deeply emotional and quietly absorbing.
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
The clash between old fashioned faith and modern thought creates a tense tale in this novel set in rural Ireland in the mid 1800s. English nurse Lib who trained under Florence Nightingale is charged with watching an adolescent farm girl who claims she no longer needs to eat because she can subsist on the manna from heaven alone. Lib is determined to prove the fraud, but the story gradually reveals her own complex past in the process. It's a finely-crafted and emotionally-charged story.
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
Although Sebastian Barry is a very esteemed and established writer, this is actually the first book I’ve read by him. I was totally enraptured. The novel tells the story of a young Irishmen and his companion John who are both lovers and soldiers in the US military first fighting in conflicts with Native Americans and then in the Civil War. His narrative style is arresting, poetic and insightful.
Let me know if you've read any of these books, which you're most interested in trying to read now and if you have any other great Irish books you've read this year in the comments below!