The Man Booker Prize is a literary prize awarded to the best original work written in English by a citizen of either the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland. Four Irish writers have won the award since its inception in 1969, including two writers in the past five years. Here’s the Booker Prize Irish line-up:
1978 – Iris Murdoch, “The Sea, the Sea”
The first Irish writer to win the coveted literary prize, Iris Murdoch has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize for five other publications (“The Nice and the Good” (1969), “Bruno’s Dream” (1970), “The Black Prince” (1973), “The Good Apprentice” (1985) and “The Book of the Brotherhood” (1987)). Her win finally came with her 1978 masterpiece “The Sea, the Sea.”
The novel, told from the point of view of Charles Arrowby, a recently retired, sixty-something actor, director and playwright. Looking to leave his former life behind, Arrowby buys a home by the sea, and uses writing as an escape. The book is infused with his memoirs – meant to be about a love affair, but turning into an account of strange events in his past life, and how they intrude on his present.
Murdoch was born in Dublin in 1919, studied at Somerville College in Oxford, England and passed away in 1999 after a five-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
The 2001 film, "Iris," tells the story of the great novelist and philosopher. In the film, Murdoch is played by Kate Winslet and Judi Dench.
1993 – Roddy Doyle, “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha”
Roddy Doyle’s family background was entirely unremarkable, the legendary Irish writer has explained. His parents married in 1951, they still live in the same house they first moved in to, and hold hands when they walk down the street.
Nevertheless, Doyle has brilliantly written about alcoholic mothers and fathers, abusive fathers, unmarried pregnancies and “families imploding and exploding.”
In “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha,” a ten-year-old Irish boy narrates his life events, including his parents’ sour marriage. In his memorable, funny, yet tragic, work, Doyle beautifully captures the speech patterns, consciousness and heart of an Irish child in that time period.
Doyle, born in 1958 is a Dublin native who studied at University College, Dublin. More of his famous novels include “The Commitments” (1987) and “The Snapper” (1992), both made into hit films, and “The Van,” which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1991.
2005 – John Banville, "The Sea"
John Banville had his first novel, “Long Lankin,” published in 1970. Since then, he has produced several remarkable works, including “Nightspawn, Birchwood, Doctor Copernicus” (1976), “Kepler” (1981) and “The Book of Evidence” (1989), which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
Banville’s Booker win came with his extraordinary book, “The Sea.”
“The Sea” tells the story of art critic Max Morden, who moves to the seaside village of Ballyless after losing his wife to cancer. Max had spent a summer during his childhood in the village with the Grace twins, Chloe and Myles. He recalls his exciting, yet unsettling , time with the Grace family, and the reader sees how this experience had haunted Max and shaped the rest of his life.
Banville, born in Co. Wexford in 1945, was also nominated for the Booker International Prize in 2007.
2007 – Anne Enright, “The Gathering”
Anne Enright shot to fame in Ireland when she won the Booker Prize in 2007 for her novel “The Gathering.” Up until that point, the writer had published a number of critically acclaimed but only moderately commercially successful novels.
Her celebrated novel “The Gathering” tells the tale of a sister mourning the suicide of her alcoholic brother. In the novel, Enright grapples with the issues that arise in a big Irish family, intensely explores death and dying and contemplates the dangerous allure of the sea.
Enright’s material is often described as “dark.” She has commented that because she is a woman, “People want me to be nice. And they never asked Beckett to be nice. So why are they asking me to be nice?”
Nice, perhaps not, but Dubliner Enright certainly demonstrates her formidable intellect and wit in her works.
*Honorable Mention: William Trevor (shortlisted four times)
1970 – “Mrs. Eckdorf in O’Neill’s Hotel”
1976 – “The Children of Dynmouth”
1991 – “Reading Turgenev (from Two Lives)”
2002 – “The Story of Lucy Gault”
Sir William Trevor, born in Mitchelstown, Co. Cork in 1928 and educated at Trinity College, has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize on four occasions.
The novelist and short story writer focuses on the Catholic-Protestant dynamic in some of his works, and sexual deviants in others. Trevor’s brilliant stories, mostly set in Ireland and England, are characterized by their wry, and sometimes morbid, tone.
Trevor has won many literary awards, and a statue of the famous Irish writer stands in his birthplace, Mitchelstown.