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8 brilliant books by Irish female writers for your must-read lists

by Jennifer McShane
01st Dec 2019

There is no doubting that there is a spotlight on Irish female writers right now. It is most deserving. In the last year alone, we’ve seen a wealth of Irish talent receive international acclaim: Sally Rooney’s mesmerising second novel Normal People cemented her place as one of the finest writers on the literary scene, Anna Burns’ immersive Milkman took home the coveted Man Booker Prize while Emilie Pine’s profound Notes to Self was one of the most potent collections of personal essays I’ve ever had the privilege to read.

Each unique voice, each story represents a changing Ireland; a rallying cry in every tome. We are now of a society which has seen women reach new heights post-#MeToo and more than ever, we need to see ourselves on the page. Luckily, the talent that has emerged from our shores shows no sign of letting up — there are some extraordinary books on the horizon and some already released by debut women writers that you simply must read.

Here’s another edit of more stories we’ve loved this year.

Music Love Drugs War by Geraldine Quigley (Fig Tree, approx. €12.99)

Derry-born Geraldine Quigley’s thought-provoking debut is set in 1981. Bobby Sands is on hunger strike, and every night Derry is in flames. But teenagers Paddy and Liz McLaughlin and their friends Christy and Orla are spending their time hanging out, drinking, smoking and wondering what comes next – work, love, university, as all young people do. Things take a turn when Paddy and Christy become embroiled in the riots, and a friend is killed — the war can no longer be ignored or simply viewed from a distance. Full of compassion with memorable characters, this is one you won’t easily forget.

When All is Said by Anne Griffin (Sceptre, approx. €12.99)

Eighty-four-year-old Maurice Hannigan sits at the bar of a grand hotel in a small Irish town, ready to raise a glass. Not just to give one toast, but five. In a single night, he’ll tell his stories, all revolving around the five people that meant the most to him. These are stories of joy, sorrow, secret tragedies and a love that never came to be – all told by quite an unforgettable character. Dublin-born Anne Griffin’s debut is a beautiful and poignant page-turner.  

Sarah Davis Goff’s Last Ones Left Alive (Tinder Press, approx. €12.99)

Growing up on a tiny island off the coast of a post-apocalyptic Ireland, Orpen and Mave’s life has survived the ravenous skrake (the Irish word for scream) who look for prey. When Maeve is bitten, Orpen must go on a life-altering journey to save her. An utterly fresh, feminist take on dystopian fiction from Groff who lives in Dublin. I devoured it in an evening and already can’t wait for Groff’s follow-up.

M for Mammy by Eleanor O’Reilly (Two Roads, approx. €13.99)

An Irish family, the Augustts, are all bound together by love and language. There’s a son who doesn’t speak (autism keeps the words trapped in his head), a mother who has a stroke and lost her words, a father who struggles to express himself at all, a granny who talks enough for all of them and a daughter who is writing it all down, just trying to make sense of it all. An ordinary family who are quite remarkable in their desire to overcome difficult obstacles. This charming debut by O’Reilly, who teaches in Wexford,  is utterly heartwarming.

Her Kind by Niamh Boyce (Penguin Ireland, approx. €15)

This shines a light on the forgotten women of Irish history with a re-imagining of the true events of Alice Kyteler who was accused of witchcraft in Kilkenny in 1324. A woman seeks refuge for herself and her daughter in the household of a childhood friend, and Alice gives her a new name and place as a servant. Petronelle soon realises the city is one of greed and suspicion — and one with a grudge against Alice. She soon realises just how dangerously deep this grudge will go. Evocative, sharp and a fitting follow up to her engaging debut The Herbalist.   

Show Them A Good Time by Nicole Flattery (Bloomsbury, approx. €15.99)

Story collections are having a moment, and Nicole Flattery’s is a more than worthy, fresh voice among them. Characters are colourful, her prose unique. From the teen protagonist falling for an older man while a murder lingers in the background, to the 41-year-old woman looking for love and the story of a former glamour model, working in a petrol station that isn’t really a petrol station, I was engrossed and absorbed in all eight stories by this talented new voice. 

Other Words for Smoke by Sarah Maria Griffin (Titan Books, approx. €10.99)

Dublin-born Griffin isn’t quite a ‘new’ writer, this being her third novel, but it would be wrong to omit this one. Twins Mae and Rossa’s summer away from home becomes something extraordinary when they discover the house — and what lingers inside it. Witches, the owl in the wall, the creatures that devour and tragedy; when two women from the house suddenly go missing, no one knows why. Only the twins know about those fateful days — and they’ll never breathe a word. A haunting and beautiful literary novel. 

The Fire Starters by Jan Carson (Doubleday Ireland, approx. €14.99)

In Carson’s remarkable debut it’s summer in Belfast city, but no one is welcoming the heat. The sun is too much, but the flames come from human hands. Dr Jonathan Murray is almost obsessive over his newborn daughter Sophie, and he has fears – unnatural fears she might not be as innocent as she should be. He doesn’t know what to do, if he’ll have to save her. Sammy Agnew, who was born just five minutes up the road from Dr Murray, has his own demons and fears to wrestle with. He is fearful of the hatred in his teenage son, Sam’s eyes. Unusual, mystical and so sublimely written, I read it in a single sitting.

Sweet Home by Wendy Erskine (Stinging Fly Press, approx. €12.99)

Belfast author Wendy Erskine Sweet Home isn’t released until June, but it already has people talking. This 11-story collection is an ode to Belfast; each one going beneath the surface of the heartbreak and despair of everyday lives. A reclusive cult-rock icon ends his days in the street where he was born; a lonely woman is fascinated by her niqab-wearing neighbours; a husband and wife become enmeshed in the lives of the young couple they pay to do their cleaning and gardening. An absorbing read from start-to-finish.

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