9 Irish (or Irish Adjacent) Books Not by James Joyce

  • March 17, 2020

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9 Irish (or Irish Adjacent) Books Not by James Joyce

Milkman: A Novel by Anna Burns (Graywolf Press). Reviewed by Robert Allen Papinchak. “Strip away what some may see as obfuscating language, and Milkman is basically a coming-of-age romance, a bildungsroman with the Irish Troubles of the 1970s as a backdrop. The novel is more a psychological and sociological study of a nameless 18-year-old girl than an overview of a significant historical period. The overriding, distinctive quality of the novel is its style. The Booker judges found it confounding. They deemed it ‘baffling’ and ‘experimental.’ They suggested the book needed to be read aloud to be understood.”

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe (Doubleday). Reviewed by Tom Glenn. “Say Nothing highlights the importance of the two most famous events of the Troubles. They are Bloody Sunday in January 1972, when British paratroopers opened fire on a huge mass of peaceful protesters, killing 13 and wounding 15. Bloody Sunday became a galvanizing event for the nationalists, who now turned from peaceful means to violence. Then came Bloody Friday in March 1973, when the IRA planted bombs all over Belfast and ended up killing many innocent civilians.”

My Coney Island Baby: A Novel by Billy O’Callaghan (Harper). Reviewed by Daniel Weaver. “What O’Callaghan achieves in his descriptions of place, and especially of the Irish island Inishbofin, Michael’s birthplace, with its ‘dark, loamy earth,’ counterbalances the frugality of the novel’s dialogue. ‘Sounds like a big deal,’ Michael says when he learns of Caitlin’s potentially imminent departure. Caitlin, Michael, and their supporting cast are not nearly as verbose as O’Callaghan’s exposition, which can, at times, seem too heavy for the delicate matters at hand — marriage, its inertia, history and stability, the love contained within it, illogical and unheeding — even in the way the text appears on the page, where paragraphs of description separate spats of diegetic, sequential dialogue.”

Savage Gods by Paul Kingsnorth (Two Dollar Radio). Reviewed by Jack McCarthy. “‘Can words, can writing,’ asks Kingsnorth, ‘bore a hole through this dimness? Sometimes, more often each day, they seem like a veiling, not a revelation.’ He pursues these questions with the ferocity of a man trying to rediscover his soul, and he dissects everything he’s learned to find it. Some people might sit down to grapple with such issues in an affordable apartment in the suburbs. But Kingsnorth goes all in and moves his wife and two children to a small farm in Ireland, not far from the River Shannon.”

Country: A Novel by Michael Hughes (Custom House). Reviewed by K.L. Romo. “Written in sometimes-difficult-to-understand regional vernacular, the novel nonetheless thrusts readers into the Irish countryside and the conflict that ravaged it. We can almost imagine eating potato soup with the men of a PIRA squad around a worn wooden table as they strategize about their next moves. As in The Iliad, this story teaches that leaders must respect their men, and men, ultimately, must forgive each other for the sake of the common good.”

Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know: The Fathers of Wilde, Yeats, and Joyce by Colm Tóibín (Scribner). Reviewed by Bob Duffy. “And now for the real shocker: Tóibín supplies the details, both confirmed and rumored, of the Wildes’ sexual adventures amid the look-the-other-way tolerance of the Anglo-Irish elite. He lays out an understated chronicle of blithe corporeal rambles by both parties, of #MeToo-style pamphleteering, of libel suits, and of veiled charges of chloroform-assisted rape. And you thought Oscar was daring.”

The Crows of Beara: A Novel by Julie Christine Johnson (Ashland Creek Press). Reviewed by Sally Shivnan. “The Crows of Beara is a love song to Ireland that combines dazzling views of wild, sweeping landscapes with a hard, honest look at the need for jobs in the country’s rural west. This contrast drives events in the novel as the community at the center of the story struggles to decide whether the environmental risks of a proposed copper mine outweigh the promise of economic development.”

We Must Be Brave: A Novel by Frances Liardet (G.P. Putnam’s Sons). Reviewed by D.A. Spruzen. “Ellen and her husband, Selwyn, take Pamela to live with them at the mill; they already have charge of three boys evacuated from London some time earlier. The childless Ellen develops a fierce maternal love for this small girl, who becomes a source of great joy. She revels in her scent: ‘She smelled warm, salty, of new-baked bread.’ But Pamela is not theirs to keep. Toward the end of the war, Pamela’s father, divorced from her feckless mother, discovers his child’s whereabouts and takes her to live with his sister in Ireland. Pamela and Ellen exchange letters for a while before Pamela’s guardians put a stop to it, claiming that continued contact is too disruptive.”

Modern Gods: A Novel by Nick Laird (Viking). Reviewed by Lee L. Krecklow. “Liz Donnelly has been working as a professor in New York City, but is now returning to her home in Northern Ireland to attend her sister, Alison’s, wedding. Liz is met at the airport by Alison’s fiancé, Stephen, whom she is meeting for the first time. Their hours-long drive through Ulster, from the airport to her parents’ home in Ballyglass, acts as Liz’s and the reader’s opportunity to get to know Stephen. It also serves as the reader’s tour of the province…But Liz’s stay is short. The day after the wedding, she begins 52 hours’ worth of travel to a small island off the coast of Papua New Guinea, where she’ll work as a presenter for a BBC documentary about new religions and what gives rise to them.”

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