Happy St Patrick’s Day! We’ve been pondering our favourite reads from across the Emerald Isle from recent years and put together our Recommended Reads from Irish writers.
“The heart of an Irishman is nothing but his imagination”
George Bernard Shaw
James Joyce. WB Yeats. Oscar Wilde. Samuel Beckett. George Bernard Shaw.
These celebrated Irish writers have become as rooted in legend as the mythical folklore of giants and children who turned into swans, and they often hog the limelight when Irish literature is thrust back onto centre stage.
So to celebrate St Patrick’s Day, we thought we’d shelve the old stalwarts on this occasion and focus on the generations that followed and who now walk the ground they broke.
Our recommended reads for St Patrick’s Day:
The Green Road by Anne Enright
“I am sorry. I can not invite you home for Christmas because I am Irish and my family is mad.”
Published in 2015, The Green Road explores the lives of the Madigan family and their mother Rosaleen.
Anne Enright follows the siblings’ individual stories to New York and Mali before bringing them all home to the Green Road for a family Christmas when their lives are forced to intertwine again.
Death of a Naturalist by Seamus Heaney
“Bubbles gargled delicately, bluebottlesWove a strong gauze of sound around the smell.There were dragonflies, spotted butterflies,But best of all was the warm thick slobberOf frogspawn that grew like clotted waterIn the shade of the banks.“Death of a Naturalist
Published in 1966, Death of a Naturalist was Seamus Heaney‘s first major volume of poetry. It explores the poet’s childhood experiences in County Derry, with recollections of family relationships and rural life.
The collection opens with the best known Digging and also features the acclaimed Death of Naturalist (quoted above) and the heartbreaking Mid-Term Break.
A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
“I am tired. Too full of stuff I’ve done. Where my legs hurt where my scalp hurts. I’ll not fight the thing inside me anymore. Let it eat me up. Please God. I want it to.”
Eimear McBride’s debut novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing took nine years to publish but was welcomed with critical acclaim, winning the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2014.
Written in a stream of consciousness, McBride challenges the reader throughout the narrative of this relationship between a young women and her brother who has been affected by a brain tumour since childhood.
Described as an experimental novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is devastatingly brilliant but not for the fainthearted.
The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin
“Dreams belong to each of us alone, just as pain does.”
Published in 2012 and adapted for the stage in 2014, Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary is rooted in the traditional biblical tale of Jesus’ life, however with a slanted outlook.
Now in her old age, Jesus’ mother Mary reflects on the events that led to her son’s death. Toibin humanises this biblical figure, challenging our expectations with the thought that Mary did not believe Jesus to be the son of God, and his life therefore, a wasted sacrifice.
The Love Object by Edna O’Brien
…“to begin our journey all over again, to live our lives as they should have been lived, happy, trusting, and free of shame”
Edna O’Brien’s collection of short stories, The Love Object was published in 2013 but book includes stories from across the author’s five decade career.
The oldest stories were first collected in 1968, the most recent in 2011, but throughout them all there prevails a darkness and a viewpoint that comes at almost every narrative through the eyes of a female protagonist whose view of men is unabashed and unashamed in it’s desire and sexual pleasure.
In The Widow, O’Brien is scathing in an attack upon the small-minded, tribal culture which prevailed in Irish villages full of gossip and twitchy curtains. Bridget, whose first marriage ended in tragedy, has a second chance of happiness, but being a snob who lives at a distance from her neighbours, they will not allow her to live happily ever after.