The Emerald Isle, Home to Your Next Read
By Rebecca Howard
Tulsa City-County Library
I’m intrigued by those DNA tests that can pinpoint your ancestry. As much as I’d like to try one, though, I’ve read way too many Margaret Atwood novels to hand over my genetic material to a for-profit entity. Paranoia aside, I feel like one of these tests could only validate what I know in my heart: I am Irish.
My partner and I took a bucket-list trip last summer to Ireland, confirming my hunch. Within the first 48 hours of arriving, I had gone from an Evensong service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin to a traditional music session at Gus O’Connor’s pub in Doolin. People offered me brown bread and dark beer everywhere I went. I explored medieval castles that had features like murder holes through which you could pour boiling oil onto the heads of your enemies. I hiked along the Wicklow Way and walked right into the sixth century monastic settlement of Glendalough. I photographed sheep. So. Many. Sheep. I was smitten. But even more than the Guinness and sing-a-longs, I loved the pride in the country’s poets and writers. At any gift shop, along with the usual tourist fare, you could always find bookmarks, calendars, notecards, and mugs with the portraits of celebrated Irish writers on them.
The authors featured on these souvenirs were the usual suspects: Joyce, Yeats, Wilde, and Beckett. But while I was doing some reading and research for my trip, I realized how many contemporary Irish authors are among my favorites. This month it seemed appropriate to share a little love for the Irish, so I’m giving you some Irish-born authors that are definitely worth checking out.
You likely recognize Donoghue’s name from the bestselling novel, Room, which was adapted into a film starring Brie Larson. But to miss out on her historical fiction would be a shame. Her novels and short stories blend and bend genres and feature rich, multi-faceted characters, strong female protagonists, and LGBTQ+ characters. I personally loved The Wonder, which is set in 1850s Ireland. In it an English nurse and a journalist work together to unravel the mystery of a young girl who is surviving without any food.
Enright writes beautifully about the complexities of families, memory, and romantic relationships. Her 2007 novel The Gathering won the Man Booker prize. The title refers to the gathering of the Hegarty family for the funeral of Liam, one of 12 surviving siblings. It also refers to the recovered memories and discovered truths that Liam’s suicide reveals. The Gathering is amazing, but don’t miss The Forgotten Waltz and The Green Road as well.
Colm Tóibîn may be best known for Brooklyn, the story of a young woman who immigrates from Ireland to New York in the 1950s. This is a lovely coming-of-age story that explores the tensions within a family between those who leave and those who stay. While I thoroughly enjoyed Brooklyn, my favorite novel by Tóibîn is Nora Webster, a quiet and elegant character study about loss, grief, and reinvention.
There are so many more contemporary Irish authors to love—Sally Rooney, Roddy Doyle, Lisa McInerney, John Boyne, and John Banville to name but a few. Of course, you’ve still got to read a few of the classics—The Dubliners by Joyce if nothing else. This year, go beyond the green beer and shamrocks and delve into the social, cultural, and historical depth and richness of Ireland.