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Bookworm: 'Notebook' translation leaves its mark


Eimear McBride

Eimear McBride

Eimear McBride

Martin Dyar's debut poetry collection, Maiden Names (Arlen House), which was shortlisted by Carol Ann Duffy and myself for the inaugural Pigott poetry prize in Listowel last May, is one of Eimear McBride's books of the year - writing in the Guardian, she deems it "both poignant and incisive", a verdict with which I concur.

Her other 2014 choices are just as off-centre. She singles out Fermanagh-born Nigel McDowell's children's novel, The Black North (Hot Key Books) as "a great read and a cunning reworking of Irish history and lore into fantasy", while Hungarian novelist Agota Kristof's The Notebook, originally published in 1986 and now available in translation from CB Editions, is "the book I have not been able to stop thinking about all year".

On the strength of that recommendation, I've ordered a copy of it, while also noting McBride's fondness for small independent publishers - her own multi-award-winning novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, was taken up by the Norwich-based Galley Beggar Press after scores of mainstream publishers had turned it down.

Meanwhile in the Observer, John Banville plumped for Nora Webster by fellow Wexford man Colm Tóibín as one of his books of the year. "A marvellously controlled work", Banville thought, adding that "few novelists today have the nerve, as Tóibín does, to portray life as it is, rather than as art would have it, and still move us deeply."

Tóibín, for his part, confesses in the Guardian roundup that he has "never been to read philosophy. It is my main failing". I'm with him there, though he then perversely names a thousand-page tome called Globes by Peter Sloterdijk, which apparently is "an attempt to uncover the philosophical foundations of the history of humanity" and which Tóibín thinks so "odd and darting and brave. . . that it is like a good novel or a good poem".

I'll take his word for it, while not having to do the same with Mark Lawson's choice of Seamus Heaney's New Selected Poems: 1988-2013, which has recently been published by Faber. Lawson deems it "a glorious memorial" to "a great writer who was also a good man", a judgment with which few would disagree.

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