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"Angela's Ashes" author, the late Frank McCourt

Top ten Irish books of the decade

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"Angela's Ashes" author, the late Frank McCourt

1. Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

Although strictly speaking not a book of this decade Frank McCourt's late in life masterpiece has maintained its vitality and - for our money - has not been bested to date, so we include it here again as a work that is  as accomplished as it is unforgettable. Angela's Ashes has the power to make you laugh at scenes that are also simultaneously wrenchingly sad, a distinctly Irish trick. Amid all the heartache and deprivation and hunger there is also the thing that saves the narrator - the story itself. McCourt's love of words and stories shines on every page, turning this book into a classic.

2. That They May Face the Rising Sun by John McGahern

John McGahern's last novel is a deceptively simple tale of rural life in 1980's Ireland, a time and an era that already seem very off. That They May Face the Rising Sun has been called an attempt to reconcile Irish traditions of community and sharing with the isolation of modernity and the cynicism that often comes with it.

3. At Swim Two Boys By Jamie O'Neill

Set in Dublin before and during the 1916 Easter Rising, At Swim, Two Boys tells the unforgettable love story of two young Irish lads, Jim Mack and Doyler Doyle. Jamie O'Neill's novel is an astonishing achievement, a serious meditation on history, politics, and the nature of desire that has rightly compared to the works of James Joyce.

5. Paula Spencer by Roddy Doyle

Paula Spencer, the heroine of Doyle's 1996 bestseller The Woman Who Walked into Doors returns long widowed (her abusive husband Charlo having been killed fleeing the Irish police) and four months sober. And this time her train wreck of a life is still as captivating as ever, thanks to Doyle's magical prose.

As the story unwinds we see her find a new confidence that she's never had before to create a life for herself and each small step makes you want to cheer. It's as simple and beautiful in the end as watching a spirit renew itself.

6. The Gathering by Anne Enright

Anne Enright's award winning novel is as black as jet, but often so savagely funny that it completely disarms you. Built around a suicide and its aftermath, Enright amazes by finding ways to describe and contemplate insuperable tragedy that bizarrely still manages to be uplifting. It's the full force of her genius, and it hits you square the opening page until the last.

7. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

The writer who once famously declared there was no such thing as Irish America returns to write a quintessential Irish American tale. Provincial young Irish girl Eilis Lacey travels to America circa 1950 where she improves her education, her appearance, refines her tastes and steps into her own skin for the first time. Part of Toibin's considerable achievement is that he creates a female character this vivid and this memorable.

8. This Charming Man by Marian Keyes

Every girl knows one: a charming, charismatic cad you can't take your eyes off. But as Marian Keyes reminds us in this decidedly diverting novel, watch out. It can take a long time to figure out how badly you've been conned, and when the truth hits it can hit hard. Thankfully there are antidotes and Keyes lists them: friends, laughs and a jar or two - and this book, which you can wear as a talisman.

9. Star of the Sea by Joseph O'Connor

Star of the Sea is Joseph O'Connor's novel is set in 1847 against the backdrop of the Irish famine. Set aboard a famine ship making the journey from Ireland to New York, hundreds of refugees, most of them with humble and desperate backgrounds, are embroiled in a murder aboard ship. You'll savor the book for its language and invention.

10. Netherland by Joseph O'Neill

Joseph O'Neill's novel concerns the life of a Dutchman living in New York in the wake of the September 11 attacks. He takes up cricket and starts playing at the Staten Island Cricket Club. But there's a lot more going on beneath the surface of this hypnotic tale. Sometimes world changing tragedies can bring people together for the first time in new and unexpected ways that enrich their lives and this book charts new terrain in a similar vein.

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