Best Irish Books
For a country with a population of just 4 million people, Ireland’s literary contributions are enormous. In observance of St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve cherry picked a few of my favorite Irish novels from a list Laura Hampson created for the London Evening Standard in March 2018. Read the full list of 17 here.
Brooklyn by Colm Tόibίn: Set in rural Ireland in the 1950s, it centers on Eilis Lacey – a young woman who is unable to find work. She decides to immigrate from Enniscorthy to Brooklyn, New York to pursue better job prospects. The novel is an emotional rollercoaster which sees Eilis battle with the pull between her new life in the States and the life she left behind in Ireland. In 2016 it was adapted into a film starring Saoirse Ronan as Eilis.
Where Rainbows End by Cecelia Ahern: Where Rainbows End centers on the lifelong friendship between Alex and Rosie. Written in epistolary form, the novel charts their friendship – and star-crossed lovers-type romance – from early childhood through to middle age. Rosie’s world is turned upside down when she becomes unexpectedly pregnant after a one-night stand at 18 and Alex had moved to the other side of the world. The book has been adapted into a film called Love, Rosie, starring Lily Collins and Sam Claflin.
Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes: Marian Keyes has an amazing personal story that should give hope to all aspiring authors. She didn’t begin writing until she was 30 and had just entered rehab for alcoholism. In Rachel’s Holiday, the title character has lived in New York for the better part of a decade and after a near-deadly cocktail of alcohol and cocaine she is taken back to Dublin and put into rehab by her family. What follows is a heart-warming tale in Keye’s signature witty, and very Irish style.
The Sea by John Banville: The Sea won the Booker prize in 2005 and is narrated by a man named Max, a widowed art historian returning to a seaside house he knew as a child. While attempting to deal with the loss of his wife, we discover that something happened at the house he lodges at… A novel about love, loss and the unpredictable power of memory.
The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen: Bowen’s novel was published less than a decade after the end of the Irish War of Independence in 1921 – the backdrop for this book. Based on the lives of the Naylor family in Co. Cork, Bowen said of the novel “[it was the] nearest to my heart, and had a deep, unclouded, spontaneous source. It is a work of instinct rather than knowledge.”
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!