Top ten Irish summer reads - books to sink your teeth into
IrishCentral's guide to Irish literature for the summer months
Stretched out in the sun, with a cold drink, taking in your back yard, the beach or wherever you may have stolen a couple of free moments in the summer sun. What's missing? A great summer read.
We've put together a list of great summer reads for everyone's interests:
"Catherine And Friends: Inside The Investigation Into Ireland’s Most Notorious Murder"
By Pat Flynn
Lots of people enjoy a good murder – if it’s on a television crime show or in the pages of an Agatha Christie novel, though. Real life murderers are another story entirely.
The trial and conviction of real life Irish murderess Catherine Nevin fixated the whole of Ireland and in his new book the Superintendent of Gorey Garda (Irish Police) Station pat Flynn explains why, by crafting an inside view of the notorious murder case and the woman who became known far and wide as the Black Widow.
Nevin quickly became known for her glamorous and extensive wardrobe and her daily appearances in the nations tabloid press became something of a fashion show (as well as a three ring circus).
The case had it all: extra-marital affairs, contract killers, fraud and assorted shady dealings. It was, Flynn says, more like an episode of The Sopranos than a typical story from a sleepy Irish town. In his new book Flynn has written an absorbing you-are-there account of the horrifying case that will haunt you for a long time after.
"W.B. Yeats and George Yeats: The Letters"
Literary History / Literature
Edited by Ann Saddlemeyer
If they’re very lucky, the conversations between some married couples can go and on happily for decades. During the twenty-two years of their married life Irish poet W.B. Yeats and George Yeats corresponded regularly whenever they were apart (this happened often, Yeats had become famous, or what he called a ‘smiling, public man”).
It’s fascinating to have this new window into their private lives as they chattily discuss friends, writing, politics and the social and artistic scene in Ireland in more detail with each other than they ever did with anyone else.
We know all about Yeats the poet but precious little about Yeats the indulgent family man. In these often long and luminous letters, that contain bits of new poems, statements of belief, gossip and salacious anecdotes, and candid assessments of friends and famous figures, you can see the happy marriage of two minds and Saddlemeyer presents us with a refreshing image of an often forbidding figure.
Oxford University Press, $49.95
"Just Garret: Tales From The Political Front Line"
Autobiography / Political
by Garret Fitzgerald
Garret Fitzgerald was twice Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland from 1981-1982 and again from late 1982 until 1987, and he was the driving force behind the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which helped pave the way for a new direction in political relations between the two islands.
Much is known about the public man, but in this new autobiography he writes frankly and often movingly about his upbringing, his parents involvement in the Independence movement – and their frequent disagreements about the Treaty at the dinner table.
Fitzgerald’s entry into politics was gradual and rather reluctant, which he makes clear here. For one thing, there was the volatility of Irish politics itself to contend with – and Fitzgerald held the helm at some of the most challenging times the nation has ever seen.
Happiest in the role of academic and consultant, Fitzgerald occupied himself writing books and papers after his twenty years in active politics concluded. In fact, he experienced a renewed vigor even as his physical health declined, and his passion for his greatest subject – Irish society, its economy and politics – only increased, as this new volume amply demonstrates.
"My American Struggle For Justice in Northern Ireland"
by Father Sean McManus
Autobiography / Political
For over forty years Father Sean McManus has been at the heart of the Irish American campaign to put pressure on the British government concerning injustice in the North.
For years a lone voice on Capitol Hill, he became Britain’s “nemesis on the premises” when he founded the Irish National Caucus in one of the darkest years of the Troubles in 1974.
But how does a mild mannered priest, who grew up in Kinawley, County Fermanagh, become involved in American politics to promote the cause of Ireland? And how does he become so successful at it?
McManus forced through Congressional action to stop the sale of American weapons to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC); he crafted the McBride Principles that led to fair employment practices in the reluctant North; and all the while he was he was opposed not just by the British, but often by the Irish governments too – and by pro-British elements within the Republican party.
Considering the challenges he faced and the lessons it taught him about the quest for justice in the North, the man who has been helping to craft the agenda for Irish America over the past thirty years has written a compelling inside view of the pursuit of peace and justice for Ireland.
by Kate Kerrigan
Ask yourself, what truly makes a life – love or riches? For some the answer is cold, hard cash but the wisest know that love is all that remains of us. In Kate Kerrigan’s new novel young Ellie Hogan has to hard choice between her poor but loving husband in Ireland and the glittering life of her wealthy suitor in New York.
To compound matters there’s a political backdrop to this already wrenching choice: Ellie’s husband John is a soldier for the Irish Republican Army and the other man pursuing her affections is a moneyed New Yorker. So her choice isn’t just between two men but between two societies: one in turmoil and one striding confidently into the future. What’s a girl to do?
Kerrigan’s straightforward narrative propels her tale forward as our affection grows for her innocent but determined young heroine, who is slowly stepping into herself as the tale progresses. Kerrigan is especially good on period detail and Ellis Island is her heartfelt imagining of the lives and often limited possibilities that our grandmothers knew intimately.
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"Time On The Ocean"
by Theo Dorgan
Non-Fictions / Adventure
Theo Dorgan is a celebrated Irish poet, writer, editor and broadcaster and Time On The Ocean is a beguiling account of the unexpected obsession that erupted in his middle age: the desire to set sail and see the world.
We’re used to books about young men upping sticks and striking out for a new life, but not many feel the compulsion after 40. Time On The Ocean is his account of a mad and often dangerous journey he took setting sail from Punto Arenas in Chile around the treacherous Cape Horn and then on to make landfall in Cape Town. It’s an epic journey and it’s also an adventure, and the last place you’d probably expect to find an Irish poet.
Dorgan’s own great-grandmother died in childbirth off Cape Horn and she was buried at sea, and you can’t help but wonder about the impulse that is compelling him to sail beyond the place where she was laid to rest.
Dorgan is, of course, a remarkable prose stylist and the humor and poignancy of this book are offset by the white-knuckle adventures that constantly erupt. In between we discover meditations on family, time, friendship, danger and of course mortality. Some poets keep a sword upstairs, and Dorgan is one of them.
by Aine Greaney
Nine months after her husband Fintan’s death in a sailing accident off Martha’s Vineyard, Ellen Boisvert begins to experience a rebirth of sorts. In a chance encounter she discovers her Irish immigrant husband was not an orphan at all.
In fact, she discovers, his mother Jo is still alive and residing on the family farm in the west of Ireland. It’s the sort of unexpected and tantalizing link that Ellen can’t possibly pass up. The 39-year-old American prep school teacher finds herself embarking on a life-changing journey to uncover the truth about the man she thought she knew intimately.
Why, she wonders justifiably, did he keep his family’s existence a dark secret from her? What transgressions or cruelties had made him so resolute about it? And could there have been another woman in the past?
You can’t undertake a journey into those kinds of thickets without a few scratches and sure enough they come. Ellen’s troubled relationship with Fintan is put under the microscope, as well as the many regrets the couple shared, but something else emerges too: amid all the loss and sorrow, healing and transformation slowly become possible. This is a book about Ireland where the sorrowful past actually leads to a brighter future, which to many readers will seem miraculous enough in itself.
"Dope In The Age Of Innocence"
by Damien Enright
Not every Irish immigrant’ tale involves signing up for the GAA and working in construction. Just ask Damien Enright, a weekly columnist for the Irish Examiner and survivor of a bohemian drug addled lifestyle in the 1960’s that would have sunk even Jack Kerouac.
Enright is the sort of man your Mammy didn’t want you to know, although it didn’t start out that way. It all took a turn around 1960 when – quite by chance – he and his wife found themselves living the bohemian life on Ibiza.
This is not the kind of emigrant’s tale you will read about in Ireland’s Own, in other words. It’s a spiraling, pill-popping tale of LSD and hash and free love and unexpectedly harsh consequences.
The highs in Enright’s cautionary tale are, to paraphrase the Beatles, “incredibly high.” But you can’t fail to notice that throughout his epic quest for self-expression it’s the women who keep getting a raw deal. By the end, he’s written bad checks, see a drug deal go disastrously wrong, and been separated multiple times from his families who all live elsewhere. It’s up to the reader to decide if it’s been worth it.
Other great reads for the summer:
by Maeve Binchy
Set in modern-day Dublin, Maeve Binchy’s "Minding Frankie" chronicles Noel Lynch’s dramatically changing life as he learns that a former fling is pregnant with his child and is dying of lung cancer.
Though struggling with alcoholism, Noel takes custody of the little girl, Frankie, and with the help of his American cousin Emily, builds a support system of family, friends and neighbors all willing to help watch Frankie. The only person not happy with these arrangements is Moira Tierney, the social worker in charge of Frankie’s case, who believes the little girl would be better off in foster care.
For more on this book visit - its review here
And because there are just too many good Irish books out there to read we've added in two must read novels in at number ten .
by Emma Donoghue
Room is a story told from the perspective of a five-year-boy, Jack, who is being held captive in a small room along with his mother. Donoghue conceived the story after hearing about five-year-old Felix in the Fritzl case.
The novel was long listed for the 2011 Orange Prize and won the 2011 Commonwealth Writers' Prize regional prize (Caribbean and Canada). It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2010 and was shortlisted for the 2010 Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and the 2010 Governor General's Awards.
Its review in the Irish Times said "This book will break your heart ...It is the most vivid, radiant and beautiful expression of maternal love I have ever read."
For more on this amazing novel visit its review here
Let the Great World Spin
by Colum McCann
Let the Great World Spin received the 2009 National Book Award for fiction and the 2011 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, one of the most lucrative prizes in the world.
It is the story of New York in August 1974. It's synopsis reads "a man is walking in the sky. Between the newly built Twin Towers, the man twirls through the air. Far below, the lives of complete strangers spin towards each other: Corrigan, a radical Irish monk working in the Bronx; Claire, a delicate Upper East Side housewife reeling from the death of her son; Lara, a drug-addled young artist; Gloria, solid and proud despite decades of hardship; Tillie, a hooker who used to dream of a better life; and Jazzlyn, her beautiful daughter raised on promises that reach beyond the skyline of New York. In the shadow of one reckless and beautiful act, these disparate lives will collide, and be transformed for ever."
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