Tuesday 27 June 2017

Pens at dawn as top authors do battle for Irish fiction crown

Our reporter on the six titles in the running to win this year's Irish Independent Popular Fiction Book of the Year award

Graham Norton. Photo: Andres Poveda
Graham Norton. Photo: Andres Poveda
Author Hazel Gaynor. Photo: Tony Gavin
Marita Conlon-McKenna. Photo: Ronan Lang
Author and journalist Paul Howard. Photo: Damien Eagers
Author Cecelia Ahern. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Author Emily Hourican. Photo: David Conachy
Holding by Graham Norton
Lyrebird by Cecelia Ahern
The Privileged by Emily Hourican
Rebel Sisters by Marita Conlon-McKenna
Game of Throw-Ins by Ross O'Carroll-Kelly
The Girl From The Savoy by Hazel Gaynor

Tanya Sweeney

Now in its 11th year, the Bord Gáis Energy Book Awards have grown from humble beginnings to a multi-category behemoth; an event that all book-lovers keep a keen eye on.

And this year, the Irish Independent is the proud sponsor of one of the most hotly contested gongs: Popular Fiction Book of the Year.

The titles in the category reflect the sheer diversity of Irish fiction talent. From Paul Howard's pin-sharp satire to Emily Hourican's delicious prose, the list confirms what every bibliophile has long known: Irish fiction is in rather rude health. The winners will be announced at a gala event in Dublin on November 16.

GAME OF THROW-INS

Ross O'Carroll-Kelly, Penguin Ireland

Ross O'Carroll-Kelly is 35, and having a mid-life crisis. With the millstone of failed potential hanging heavy on him, he returns to playing rugby with a team that habitually dwell at the bottom of the division. His teammates are younger, fitter, faster and infinitely more plugged in to the zeitgeist, and while it's no fun for ROCK, this makes for a cracking and hilariously witty read. This is Paul Howard's 16th title, and the entertaining fun of this SoCoDu satire has clearly yet to wane.

LYREBIRD

Cecelia Ahern, HarperCollins

Following on from the success of The Marble Collector, Cecelia Ahern's 14th title is packed to the brim with intrigue. At the heart of the tale is Laura, a young woman living in the remote wilds of West Cork. Much like the Australia Lyrebird, she has a talent for mimicry, and soon becomes the object of fascination of a documentary crew, and sound-recordist Solomon in particular. As Lyrebird moves from the country to the city, her gift brings her unwanted fame, and she begins to understand the complexities of the modern world. Arguably one of Ahern's most ambitious works yet.

REBEL SISTERS

Marita Conlon-McKenna, Transworld Ireland

Much has been written about the brave souls who were involved in the Easter Rising, but Conlon-McKenna turns her focus instead to three sisters involved in the Rising that history has all but consigned to the margins. The Gifford sisters (Nellie, Muriel and Grace) were raised by a Catholic father and loyalist mother, and would, in time, become involved with 1916 leaders (Muriel married Thomas MacDonagh and Grace famously married Joseph Plunkett).

Given Conlon-McKenna's deft touch for writing historical fiction and weaving readable and relatable characters into her accounts, this is much more than just a simple history lesson.

THE PRIVILEGED

Emily Hourican, Hachette Books Ireland

Stella, Laura and Amanda have the kind of friendship that, amid the bloom and energy of youth, feels like it will last forever.

Some decades later, the three are approaching their 30s and have scattered to the wind in many respects. Stella is a lawyer in New York, whose work is the only significant relationship she is interested in. Laura is a Dublin-based journalist still waiting on her first big break. The beautiful and damned Amanda, meanwhile, has fared worst of all, barely keeping her head above water in London, her finger ever hovering on the self-destruct button.

Certainly, female friendship is a well-worn literary conceit by now, yet Hourican has managed to breathe new life into it with a fresh, atmospheric tone.

And as with most great writing, The Privileged packs plenty of truth and social commentary beneath its story.

THE GIRL FROM THE SAVOY

Hazel Gaynor, HarperCollins

Hazel Gaynor's historical novel is a step back in time to a glamorously compelling era; it's the roaring 1920s and Dolly Lane longs to dance on the London stage, but instead finds herself working at the Savoy Hotel.

Her back-breaking job gives her a peek inside rarefied London society, and the Bright Young Things who love champagne, jazz and glamour. Soon, an opportunity to become a songwriter's muse presents itself. But even with a megawatt future ahead of her, can Dolly's past ever really be left behind? Gorgeously written, and with a keen eye for Technicolor detail, Gaynor's third book is a stone-cold hit.

HOLDING

Graham Norton, Hodder & Stoughton

Graham Norton has proved himself a charming master of ceremonies on his TV chat show, and fans will be pleasantly surprised to find that he is quite a gifted storyteller, too. Set in the rural town of Duneen in Cork, the rhythms of simple daily life are shattered when human remains are uncovered on an old farm during construction work.

Rumour has it that the remains are those of Tommy Burke, a young and charming man who skipped town 30 years ago with barely a goodbye note.

Though the local sergeant has been used to a quiet life up until now, he has a job on his hands unravelling this mystery, and he solicits the help of two of Tommy Burke's former loves: Brid Riordan, now an alcoholic stay-at-home mother, and Evelyn Ross, a broken-hearted bachelorette.

Norton may have moved to the UK decades ago, but his keen eye for small-town Irish life and its inhabitants is still blessedly intact.

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