Reading Irish books isn’t a traditional way of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, but it might be a more fulfilling one. Several authors from Ireland have published novels that have become successes, according to both critics and sales charts. Some Irish books are classics, and some are new classics. For St. Patrick’s Day, travel to Ireland through these pages.
Anything by Tana French
Tana French’s Irish books are set in and around present-day Dublin. They focus on a handful of detectives who wind up, reluctantly, examining their own secrets during their murder investigations. Her writing is gritty at times, poetic at times. She has keen insight into the human condition, and reveals much about what makes us tick.
The Green Road by Anne Enright
Spanning thirty years, The Green Road tells the story of Rosaleen, matriarch of the Madigans, a family on the cusp of either coming together or falling irreparably apart. As they grow up, Rosaleen’s four children leave the west of Ireland for lives they could have never imagined in Dublin, New York, and Mali, West Africa. In her early old age their difficult, wonderful mother announces that she’s decided to sell the house and divide the proceeds. Her adult children come back for a last Christmas, with the feeling that their childhoods are being erased, their personal history bought and sold.
The Gathering by Anne Enright
In The Gathering, a large Irish family returns to Dublin for the wake of their brother Liam. Won the 2007 Booker Prize.
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
Angela’s Ashes is one of the highest-rated Irish books. This memoir was written by Frank McCourt, who was born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank’s mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank’s father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy—exasperating, irresponsible, and beguiling—does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story. Frank lives for his father’s tales of Cuchulain, who saved Ireland, and of the Angel on the Seventh Step, who brings his mother babies. Perhaps it is story that accounts for Frank’s survival. Wearing rags for diapers, begging a pig’s head for Christmas dinner and gathering coal from the roadside to light a fire, Frank endures poverty, near-starvation and the casual cruelty of relatives and neighbors—yet lives to tell his tale with eloquence, exuberance, and remarkable forgiveness.
Country Girl: A Memoir by Edna O’Brien
Starting with O’Brien’s birth in a grand but deteriorating house in Ireland, Country Girl: A Memoir moves through convent school to elopement, divorce, single-motherhood, the wild parties of the ’60s in London, and encounters with Hollywood giants, pop stars, and literary titans. There is love and unrequited love, and the glamour of trips to America as a celebrated writer and the guest of Jackie Onassis and Hillary Clinton. Country Girl is a rich and heady accounting of the events, people, emotions, and landscape that have imprinted upon and enhanced one lifetime.
Modern Irish Short Stories (Edited by Ben Forkner)
“At one point in my life, I carried this collection around with me wherever I went. It moved with me to new apartments, it got dog-eared, and the stories accumulated food stains and coffee rings. There’s no better introduction to Irish literature that I can think of. All the big names are in here, including most of the ones in this post.” – Chris Schluep, for Omnivoracious, about Modern Irish Short Stories.
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The Sea by John Banville
In The Sea, a novel about love, loss, and the unpredictable power of memory, John Banville introduces us to Max Morden, a middle-aged Irishman who has gone back to the seaside town where he spent his summer holidays as a child to cope with the recent loss of his wife. It is also a return to the place where he met the Graces, the well-heeled family with whom he experienced the strange suddenness of both love and death for the first time. What Max comes to understand about the past, and about its indelible effects on him, is at the center of this elegiac, gorgeously written novel — among the finest [Irish books] we have had from this masterful writer. Source: Random House
The Commitments by Roddy Doyle
Yes, the cult classic movie was based on the book, The Commitments. This funky, rude, unpretentious first novel traces the short, funny, and furious career of a group of working-class Irish kids who form a band, The Commitments. Their mission: to bring soul to Dublin.
The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe
“Not an easy one. The Butcher Boy is about small town Ireland, murder, and descent into madness. Written in stream-of-consciousness first-person, it won the 1992 Irish Literature Prize for Fiction.” – Chris Schluep, for Omnivoracious
Ulysses by James Joyce
James Joyce’s Ulysses is a novel of eighteen “episodes,” all set in Dublin, Ireland, between 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 am, June 16-17, 1904. Amazon says, “…one of the greatest works of the 20th Century… A book of amazing life, it is at times bawdy, funny, moving, and like life rich in complexity and detail.”