You are probably familiar with Frank McCourt and Colm Tóibín, but Ireland is home to many more incredible writers for you to discover. You might even forgo your St. Patrick’s Day plans of celebrating at the local pub in favor of curling up with these 11 books as rich as the land they came from.
11 Novels from Irish Authors You Need to Read Now
You may have read Colm Tóibín’s bestseller BROOKLYN, but his earlier novel THE BLACKWATER LIGHTSHIP is an equally stunning piece of contemporary Irish literature. When Helen, a schoolteacher living in Dublin, learns that her brother, Declan, has been sick with AIDS for years, she must contact her mother and grandmother to give them the news. But she’s been estranged from both of them for years because of past misunderstandings that were never resolved. Declan’s illness forces the women to come together, right their wrongs, and reevaluate the meaning of family.
Set in Ireland in the early 1990s, this is the story of Helen, her mother, and her grandmother, who have come together after a decade of estrangement to tend to Helen’s beloved brother, Declan, who is dying of AIDS. Along with Declan’s two friends, the six of them, from different generations and with different beliefs, are forced to navigate the shoals of their own histories and come to terms with each other. Shortlisted for the 2000 Man Booker Prize and written in spare, luminous prose, The Blackwater Lightship explores the nature of love and the complex emotions of a family at war with itself.
Anne Enright is one of the Irish literary scene’s crown jewels, and THE GATHERING, which won the 2007 Man Booker Prize, is largely known as her pièce de résistance. When Liam Hegarty commits suicide, his sister Veronica looks back on his life and tries to make sense of its tragic end. She reexamines their shared childhood, and in doing so, is forced to confront troubling truths about their family. As the New York Times review said, “Anne Enright’s fiction is jet dark—but how it glitters.”
You know ANGELA’S ASHES, Frank McCourt’s stunning memoir of his childhood in impoverished Limerick (and if you somehow still haven’t read it—do so immediately). But have you read ’TIS? McCourt’s second book picks up right where ANGELA’S ASHES left off and chronicles McCourt’s arrival in the United States, his work as a teacher at Stuyvesant High School, his relationships with his family, and his struggle to assimilate into American culture. This is a compelling account of what it means to be an Irish-American, from a member of the first generation who brought the term to life.
In this psychological thriller by the author of ROOM, what appears to be a miracle takes place in a small Irish village: an 11-year-old girl has been surviving without food for months, and claims to sustain entirely on manna from heaven. The villagers believe this to be a true act of God, but of course, some are skeptical. A nurse travels by way of England to observe the girl, taking shifts alongside a nun, determined to find out the truth once and for all.
On Erin’s wish list
Emma Donoghue is one of my favorite authors, so it’s taken every bit of my self-restraint to wait for the holidays to get a copy of her new book. In THE WONDER, a nurse is called to a small Irish village to observe the “miracle” of a girl said to have survived without food for months. Donoghue has already proved to be a skilled and remarkable writer in ROOM, FROG MUSIC, and SLAMMERKIN, giving me confidence that her newest novel will be another amazing read.
An 18-year-old girl wakes up after a party one morning. She can’t remember anything about the night before—until photos surface online and she begins to piece together the awful, but unavoidable, truth: she was raped. But will anyone believe her, when the hometown heroes are the ones on the chopping block and she’s, well, less than beloved? ASKING FOR IT is a difficult but incredibly important read that rings especially true in our current cultural moment of reckoning and the fight to free victims of sexual assault from blame and guilt.
Handsome and dashing, Oliver seems like the perfect husband, the kind any woman would love to marry. He and his wife, Alice, seem to have a marriage straight out of a storybook—together, they write and illustrate beautiful children’s books. It all seems perfect—until Oliver beats Alice into a coma. As Alice straddles the line between life and death, the couple’s horrified friends and neighbors realize there’s a lot they don’t know about Oliver after all—and together, they are determined to discover who he really is.
By the author of LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN, DANCER tells an intimate fictionalized story of the real-life Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev through the lens of those who knew him, ranging from his first ballet teacher, his shoemaker, and a Venezuelan street hustler—and many more. DANCER is a breathtaking and imaginative work by Colum McCann that speculates the life underneath the veneer of an icon.
Spanning four decades and divergent worlds, this is the erotically charged story of the renowned Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev. This historically inspired novel charts the extreme perfectionism and willful hedonism that drove the ballet star’s all-consuming artistic greatness, and reminds us that the thrill of the stage is both a curse and a redemption.
Tristram St. Lawrence never planned on coming home to Dublin again—but he’s left with no choice when his plane makes an emergency landing in the very place he wanted to leave behind forever. There, he reconnects with a most unlikely figure from his past: his childhood bully, Desmond, who has become somewhat of a construction mogul since Tristram saw him last. Desmond tries to entice Tristram to dive into a seemingly lucrative construction project with him. It seems too good to be true . . . and soon enough, Tristram realizes it is. If you loved THE BIG SHORT, or wondered what the collapse of the housing bubble was like on the other side of the pond, THE DEVIL I KNOW is the perfect read for you.
Every now and then, an author finds a way to tell a story and channel a voice in a way that feels completely new. Eimear McBride did this in her highly lauded debut, A GIRL IS A HALF-FORMED THING. This stunning coming-of-age novel centers around a girl’s relationship with her brother, who suffers from a brain tumor, as well as her equally complicated and fractured relationships with her mother and herself. If you are interested in transcendent fiction that breaks all pre-established boundaries, you must read A GIRL IS A HALF-FORMED THING.
Frenzied and unforgiving, this gorgeous, dark, difficult book is worth sinking into (and you will need to let yourself sink in). Just like with Ferrante’s work, I found myself not breathing for long passages at a time. Maybe not great for your physical health, but unbeatable mentally.
Read the full review of A GIRL IS A HALF-FORMED THING here.
This is a novel that holds no prisoners, that pulls you into a death grip and doesn’t let go. In 1832, Irishman Coll Coyle has killed the wrong man—the son of a master tracker completely unafraid to kill in his search for vengeance. The chase will lead the men from the Irish bogs to the Pennsylvania railroad as this epic cat-and-mouse game comes to its fateful head. Spanning two continents during a time rife with uncertainty and transition for both, RED SKY IN MORNING is a brutal and unsparing read, tailor-made for fans of Cormac McCarthy.
When 14-year-old Skippy, a student at Dublin’s prestigious Seabrook College, suddenly drops dead in a doughnut shop one day, suspicions abound on what could have contributed to his early demise. With an eccentric cast of vivid characters, like the hip-hop loving student known as “MC Sexecutioner” and the possibly evil headmaster known as “the Automator,” SKIPPY DIES is a darkly funny twist on the classic boarding school novel.
When Skippy, a fourteen-year-old boy at Dublin’s esteemed Seabrook College, ends up dead on the floor of a local doughnut shop, one pressing question remains: Why? This heartfelt and hilarious novel explores the pain, joy, and occasional beauty of adolescence, all while investigating the mystery of Skippy’s demise.