This year is racing by! There has been a lot of depressing news lately so it feels all the more necessary to take the time to celebrate great books that have been published this year and recall that 2016 isn’t all doom and gloom. Since we’re at the midpoint here are ten of my favourite books so far. It’s been very difficult to whittle down this list as I’ve read 57 books so far this year and many have been excellent. (I should note Garth Greenwell's "What Belongs to You" would be on this list but I actually first read it last year) Click on the titles at the bottom to read my full thoughts about each of these outstanding books. You can also watch a video of me briefly discussing each of these books here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAqoKxj-QBc

Last year I ran a competition and it worked so well I want to do it again.
Here’s how to enter:
-    Leave a comment letting me know the best book you’ve read so far this year (it doesn’t have to be a new book).
-    Leave some kind of contact info (email or Twitter/GoodReads handle).
-    At the end of July I’ll pick one of your suggestions and send that person one of my favourite books from the below list below.
-    Open to anywhere in the world.

I’ll also read your suggestion by the end of the year. Last year, Poppy recommended to me the fantastic novel “Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness”.

Even if you don’t want to enter, please let me know what great books you’ve been reading this year or if you’ve read any of my choices.

Dinosaurs on Other Planets by Danielle McLaughlin
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
The Lonely City by Olivia Laing
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
The Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates
The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
A Quiet Life by Natasha Walter

Kate Mosse introduces the evening.

Kate Mosse introduces the evening.

After so much reading and discussion, the 2016 Baileys Prize Winner was announced last night! I was so thrilled to see that my predicted winner “The Glorious Heresies” took the Bessie statue and prize. The ceremony and party took place in the ballroom of the Royal Festival Hall which was packed with people and very warm. I had a fantastic evening alongside my good friend and journalist Uli from Gays the Word bookshop. Lots of lovely chat about literature with fellow book blogger/vloggers, booksellers, journalists and publishers. It was particularly a pleasure meeting author Cynthia Bond who is so humble and was as lovely as can be. Also, I spent some time talking with Ali Smith. We had a long conversation discussing animals for some reason where I talked about my passion for owls and she confided that her spirit animal is the pink fairy Armadillo which is native to Central Argentina. She’s never seen one in person but hopes to one day.

Not only is it a thrill to know that the energetic, creative and complex novel “The Glorious Heresies” will now get more deserved attention and be read more widely, but I also placed a cheeky little bet that it would take the award so I’m now pleased to find myself with an extra £45 in my pocket! Of course, the real point of the prize (rather than parties or gambling) is celebrating the voices of excellent female authors and all the involved discussion about great literature written by women. I’ve enjoyed following the prize so much because it’s introduced me to books I probably wouldn’t have read otherwise. Interestingly the consensus amongst the shadow panel I was involved with was that Kate Atkinson’s novel “A God in Ruins” should have won the prize – even though this novel wasn’t even shortlisted. What do you think? Are there any books on the long or short list you would have preferred to see win? Let's keep the conversation going!

Lisa McInerney's acceptance speech.

Lisa McInerney's acceptance speech.

Photobooth snapshop with Uli.

Photobooth snapshop with Uli.

with Cynthia Bond author of "Ruby"

with Cynthia Bond author of "Ruby"

Thanks for letting me know your thoughts about the nominated books. There’s still time to win a copy of McInerney’s novel because I’m leaving this competition open until the end of June. Just comment on my BookTube video about the Baileys Prize shortlist and subscribe to my YouTube channel for a chance to win a copy of McInerney's stunning novel.

Looking at the Baileys Prize longlist, one of the novels I was most excited to see was by Lisa McInerney who I had read recently in the brilliant anthology of Irish women writers “The Long Gaze Back”. Her story 'Berghain' is full of spit and fire as it follows a young man's drug fuelled night out. It struck me as so forceful how she wrote from a male character's perspective about experiences not often explored in fiction. Her direct style and subject matter is reflected in this novel “The Glorious Heresies” about the lives of several struggling individuals in modern day Cork. At the beginning of the novel, we meet fifty-nine year old Maureen who has just murdered a man in her apartment. Her gangster son Jimmy calls upon his estranged old friend Tony to help him clean up the mess. Several people are drawn into this incident and its consequences reverberate through their lives over a number of years. At the heart of this novel is Tony's teenage son Ryan who struggles to find his place in this post-financial-crash Irish community. With powerful wit and insight, McInerney weaves a story of the underbelly of society exploring the ways these individuals are hampered by their country's social system and religious traditions.

There is a lot of bad behaviour in this novel and a good amount of cursing. Though the characters aren't excused from participating in folly that leads to violence, substance abuse and antisocial behaviour, the author shows how their choices are inhibited by the society they live in. A prostitute leans on drugs and alcohol to distract from the hate she receives from clients. A boy acts out at school because nobody notices the mental and physical abuse he receives from his father. A mother sets a church on fire many years after being forcefully separated from her baby born outside of wedlock. A single father commits heinous acts to protect the six children he struggles to raise and support.

Through Ryan we see how a boy with intelligence and artistic promise (he's a talented piano player) is slowly drawn into a life of crime and gang violence. He needs nurturing, but his development is perverted by abuse received from both men and women. His tenderly drawn relationship with his girlfriend is slowly warped. What's worse is that he's aware of his life falling into cliches so that “The predictability of his transformation hurt him terribly. He hated it.” Yet, as badly as he'd like to escape his circumstances he's unable to break out of them because of the relationships he's locked into and institutions like the court, school and church that fail to see how vulnerable he really is.

'Streets of Cork' photo by Donncha O Caoimh

'Streets of Cork' photo by Donncha O Caoimh

Of course, as difficult as life is for the men in this book, life is even harder for women. It's explained how “they divide up the women into categories,” said Maureen. “The mammies. The bitches. The wives. The girlfriends. The whores. Women are all for it too, so long as they fall into the right class. They all look down on the whores. There but for the grace of God.” The prostitutes are at the bottom of the social ladder and suffer the most. The character of Tara Duane who used to be a prostitute is a particularly interesting character as someone who tries to be savvy and gain leverage in the community, but ultimately fails and participates in abusive behaviour as she's convinced of her own righteousness.

Most fascinating of all is Maureen who has strong independent opinions and exists in a privileged place as the protected mother of a feared gangster. As someone who has returned to Ireland after living in England for many years, she can see the corruption and hypocrisy from an outsider's perspective. She realizes she's made mistakes but she sees clearly how the church has hoarded power and abused its position. At one point she has this powerful confrontation in a confessional booth: “Oh, Father. I know I’m sorry. What about you? Bless me, Ireland, for I have sinned. Go on, boy. No wonder you say Holy God is brimming with the clemency; for how else would any of you bastards sleep at night?” She's someone who has entirely lost any faith in the church and its ability to heal: “there’s nothing there. No confessor, no penitent, no sin, no sacrament. Just actions to be burned away.” There is a strong disregard for the symbolic powers the church once possessed as in one scene where a runaway prostitute Georgie sniffs cocaine off a bible and observes that these books are “Mass produced and made of dead trees; there’s nothing special about them.” The ferocious anger for the way religion has failed to support people when they are at their most vulnerable is palpable throughout the book.

“The Glorious Heresies” is an energetic and dynamic story depicting members of society who aren't often given a voice. For this reason, McInerney's writing reminded me of books by Kerry Hudson and, for the way it depicts communities entrenched in violence it reminded me of the LA novel “All Involved”. It speaks of the challenges the current generation faces while showing an understanding of the weight and influence of the past. In fact, the past continuously bleeds into the present as a character named George observes “We’ve more history than we’re able for.” Instead of looking to the age-old institutions for support and inspiration the newer generation's experience is refracted through video games or popular TV shows like The Sopranos or The Walking Dead. McInerney writes powerfully about issues affecting us here and now. I felt drawn into her characters' lives and tremendously moved by this strikingly forceful novel.

Posted
AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesLisa McInerney