The last year offered up a wealth of great Irish reads. As part of the recently wrapped up Irish Book Awards, sponsored by An Post, we’ve rounded up 10 more of the countless books we’ve loved in 2019
Three Little Truths by Eithne Shortall (Corvus)
This story centres on three very different women: Martha, once always in charge, finds herself lost and lagging behind as she moves her family to Dublin but won’t tell anyone why; former It girl Robin back at home with her parents and four-year-old son; and Edie with a picture-perfect life – or so it would seem. Longing for a baby with her husband avoiding the subject, she needs a distraction and soon finds herself playing neighbourhood sleuth. Meanwhile, Robin spends much of the time trying to avoid her ex and Martha still won’t talk about her mysterious move. So many secrets behind closed doors. It’s not long before they all come tumbling out. A charming and witty read.
Related: Vicky Phelan and Andrea Corr among winners at 2019 An Post Irish Book Awards
Paris Syndrome by Lucy Sweeney-Byrne (Banshee Press)
In Lucy Sweeney Byrne’s debut collection of 11 short stories, entitled Paris Syndrome, travel is the central theme that connects each story. Lucy, our ever-changing protagonist, longs to escape the disappointments and regrets of her life in Ireland. She seeks excitement, away from the humdrum of daily life and hopes that with each new destination — Paris, New York, Mexico — she will find something. Something different or perhaps, a better version of herself. And yet, with every journey, there is still a sense of monotony; the narratives in each place seem listless. These are travels stripped of romanticism and she’s left with no option but to look inward. This is a beautiful book as Lucy artfully documents her yearning to belong.
My Coney Island Baby by Billy O’Callaghan (Jonathan Cape)
This offers a melancholy yet beautiful take on an illicit love affair. Michael, an Irish immigrant, and Caitlin, an Irish-American with writer’s block, have been meeting as lovers once a month for 25 years. They are both unhappily married to other people, so Coney Island is their haven. Michael is married to Barbara though the devastating loss of their young son drives a wedge between them and Caitlin has never felt that she was truly loved or needed by anyone until she met Michael. The novel unfolds over the course of six or seven hours, and the narrative swings between the past and the present, between both characters perspectives. After so many years and half a lifetime spent in secret, they must now make a choice.
Overcoming by Vicky Phelan (Hachette Books Ireland)
Vicky Phelan frequently insists she’s no superwoman yet it’s difficult to think of her as anything but after reading her powerful memoir. It’s her strength that saw her a reluctant warrior in the CervicalCheck scandal; she would not be silenced. She refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement in the settlement of her action against the HSE and her battle began, but she had been fighting during different moments of her life, too. She details her life growing up and then, early brushes with tragedy, including the major car incident in which she shattered her pelvis and nearly lost her life. Throughout it all, she remains determined and most importantly, hopeful. Compelling.
Related: #IMAGEReads: 10 of our favourite books of 2019 (Part I)
Rewind by Catherine Ryan Howard (Corvus)
From the bestselling, multiple prize-shortlisted novelist, comes an expertly crafted whodunnit. Dubliner Natalie O’Connor Kerr, a blogger, suspects her husband, Mike of having an affair. He denies it but Natalie sets off for Shanamore Cottages, a holiday hotel near Cork, where she suspects Mike’s trysts occur. A week passes and concern rises when no one hears a word from her. Dublin journalist Audrey, who works for an online gossip magazine, desperately needs a lead for a story and figures out that Natalie went to Shanamore and travels there herself. But not alone, she is being followed. Meanwhile, Shanamore’s owner Andrew has his own shameful secrets – and nothing is as it appears to be. A captivating thriller.
Once, Twice Three Times an Aisling by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen (Gill Books)
Aisling is turning 30 and, by all accounts, should be delighted with life, being a “proper grown-up”. In reality, life is nowhere near as glamorous as she thought it would be. She should be feeling flirty but instead spends most of the time feeling frazzled. Her heart is broken and even though business is booming, it’s tough keeping her café afloat, especially when her best friend Majella is expecting the hen of the century. As B-day approaches, Aisling has to make a tough decision. Will she be able to handle it (again) without being a complete Aisling? She’s back with a bang and her third outing is the best yet. Laugh-out-loud funny.
Tunnel Vision by Kevin Breathnach (Faber & Faber)
The revival of the ‘Irish essayist’ has seen a remarkable wealth of personal stories released this year, chief among them, this inventive collection. In this unique series, this talented Irish writer offers his shrewd and sensitive, self-reflective perspective on relationships, sexual repression, addiction and masculinity. Standouts include the timely essays on photography which take a particular interest in the behaviour of male artists towards women. Among the drug-taking and late-night drinking is extreme sensitivity. Overall, it is not, in topic or in structure, what the reader might expect, but some essays are especially moving.
Skin by EM Reapy (Head of Zeus)
The follow-up to her gripping debut, Red Dirt centres on 31-year-old teacher Natalie who feels lost. She travels extensively to Bali, New Zealand, Australia, Peru, the Netherlands, Dublin and other parts of Ireland, but though she explores the differing world around her, she never gives herself a break. Her self-criticism is continuously present throughout, her experiences hampered by the bulk of her thoughts and interactions. At the start of her travels, they are almost all focused on food, her weight, her binge-eating and her desperate insecurities about her body. Gradually, however, as she journeys on, her self-obsession lulls as new places and people come to life – as she begins to make peace with herself. This novel explores different cultures, body shaming and the breaking down of stereotypes in a wonderfully evocative way.
Main photograph: Unsplash