| 13.3°C Dublin

Have books will travel - at least to the end of garden - for summer staycation



Author  Louise O'Neill with Bosco

Author Louise O'Neill with Bosco

Bernardine Evaristo

Bernardine Evaristo

Dave Benett/Getty Images

Ghost in the throat

Ghost in the throat

Kathleen McMahon

Kathleen McMahon

The Weight of Love

The Weight of Love

Joe O'Connor. Photo: Frank McGrath

Joe O'Connor. Photo: Frank McGrath

Strange Flowers

Strange Flowers

Author Louise O'Neill with Bosco

Whether you are venturing further afield or staying close to home, good reads are an essential part of the holliers. Madeleine Keane asked a dozen of our best-loved writers what they're packing in their suitcases.

Sebastian Barry

I have already read The Butchers by Ruth Gilligan but I think I will be rereading it, as it is a subtle and enthralling book. I can make no secret of my regard for the world-class short story writer Danielle McLaughlin, who won the Sunday Times Short Story Award last year. This year it has been won by Niamh Campbell, who has also just published a glinting sextant of a novel called This Happy. The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes, following her first novel Orchid and the Wasp, should be nestling in everyone's imaginary beach bag (don't let the imaginary suntan oil stain it). 

The roll-call of stupendous writers in Ireland who happen also to be women is added to monthly. Naoise Dolan, Nicole Flattery, Melatu Uche Okorie, Yan Ge, Cauvery Madhavan, Sinead Gleeson, Anne Griffin, Sarah Davis-Goff, Hilary Fannin, Alice Lyons... A great river brimming its banks.

Sebastian Barry is the Irish Laureate for Fiction. His most recent novel is 'A Thousand Moons' (Faber)

Louise O'Neill

A romance writer who no longer believes in love and a literary author struggling with writer's block, clash in the delightful Beach Read by Emily Henry. It's the perfect holiday read, even if that holiday is in your front garden rather than the Costa del Sol this year!

I adored Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas. Set in the most exclusive but secretive college in America - where entry guarantees its students unprecedented levels of success upon graduation - this is a deliciously sinister novel that bristles with an unsettling glamour. If you're a fan of Never Let Me Go, or The Secret History, you will devour Catherine House.

Lastly, I greatly admired Brit Bennett's debut novel and her follow-up The Vanishing Half does not disappoint. It's about twin sisters in 1950s America, one of whom decides to 'pass' as white. It's a stunning exploration of race, colourism, and love. I couldn't put it down.

'After The Silence' by Louise O'Neill will be published in September (Riverrun)

Joseph O'Connor


Joe O'Connor. Photo: Frank McGrath

Joe O'Connor. Photo: Frank McGrath

Joe O'Connor. Photo: Frank McGrath


I've almost finished an advance copy of Donal Ryan's extraordinary new novel Strange Flowers, to be published next month, and it is a triumph of quiet but devastating power, by some distance the best novel I've read so far this year. I won't jinx it by saying what prizes it deserves. But it does. 

My next choice is A Ghost in the Throat, by Doireann Ni Ghriofa. I don't think I've ever read anything quite like this wonderful book, which is a sort of love story, a poem, a reflection, an enchantment, a shimmering, beautiful and moving work about the nurturing sustenance of the written word, how reading can make time disappear. I read a proof copy a few months ago and have felt haunted by it ever since.  I'm greatly looking forward to becoming immersed in it again this summer, at a slower pace, savouring every one of her beautiful sentences. 

We hope to go for a fortnight to the west of Ireland, where I often went as a child in the summertime. I can't wait to get into the brilliant Sebastian Barry's A Thousand Moons while we're there, because it's a part of the world to which America felt oddly close in my childhood, and he writes of that emerging country with such spellbinding skill. And the music of his prose is a joy.  

Finally, I adored Liz Nugent's Our Little Cruelties so much that I'm going back to her earlier books now. What a knuckle-grippingly excellent storyteller she is. 

Joseph O'Connor's 'Shadowplay' (Vintage) won the An Post/Eason Irish Novel of the Year

Henrietta McKervey

One advantage of not going abroad this year is that my reading isn't limited to however many books I can squash into my suitcase. I'm bringing Italy to Ireland with The Land Where Lemons Grow by Helena Attlee. Blending history, travel, art and food, it explores Italy from top to toe with such zesty energy that the scent of lemons seems to rise from the page.

Elaine Feeney's debut As You Were promises to be a fascinating take on contemporary Ireland and women's lives. Featuring a tough young property developer with a terrifying secret, I loved Lisa McInerney's description of it as "raw, sharp and wild".

When I was struggling to read in April a friend suggested Olivia Manning's The Balkan Trilogy. It opens with the Simplon Orient Express steaming across Europe as the Nazis advance into Poland, and follows the lives of newlyweds Guy and Harriet Pringle. Inspired by Manning's own life, it's a portrait of a marriage as well as a disintegrating society, written with a cool eye and ironic style. I read the first instalment, The Great Fortune, saving the second two - The Spoilt City and Friends and Heroes - for summer.

Henrietta McKervey's 'A Talented Man' is published by Hachette

Paul Perry

I recently tuned in to a discussion of the Black British novel on Zoom with Courttia Newland and learnt a great deal. I'll be reading The Lonely Londoners, the 1956 novel by Trinidadian author Samuel Selvon after that.  

Doireann Ni Ghriofa is a wonderful poet both in Irish and English. I can't wait for A Ghost in the Throat, a hybrid of essay and autofiction. Elaine Feeney is another poet whose work I've long admired. This August she hits us with the novel As You Were. My own novel The Garden which appears next year is based on my time working as an undocumented labourer on an orchid farm in Florida. During rewrites this summer, I'll be rereading Joan Didion's Miami. Granta once wrote: "Miami may be the sunniest place in America, but this is Didion's darkest book."

Finally, it was a real pleasure to get a call from my local library in Dundrum to tell me they were open for collections. I picked up one of the first poetry collections by American poet Nick Flynn, Some Ether.  

Paul Perry's latest collection of poetry is 'Blindsight' (above/ground press) His novel 'The Garden' (New Island) appears in 2021

Christine Dwyer Hickey

The silver lining of lockdown was a chance to catch up on my reading. All the better when I was transported out of my armchair and beyond the 2km/5km limit. And so, it was to the Middle East and Colum McCann's Apeirogon.

The novel centres on the true story of two fathers, both of whom lost daughters in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. It then expands in ever-widening circles travelling across time and space into one of the most astonishing novels you are likely to read.

Beyond the Sea by Paul Lynch also blew me away. Ostensibly about two men set adrift on a savage sea, this is a beautifully written and tightly controlled novel about the human spirit and what happens when it is pushed to the limit. Kathleen McMahon's latest novel, set in Greece, Dublin and the south of France, is due out soon. Nothing but Blue Skies is a highly unusual love story told with great tenderness and skill.  

And finally, a little closer to home: John O'Donnell's debut collection of short stories, Almost the Same Blue, is insightful, compelling and a pure pleasure to read.

Christine Dwyer Hickey's novel 'The Narrow Land' won the inaugural Dalkey Literary Award in June (Atlantic Books) Rob Doyle

Rob Doyle

I like to travel when I read fiction, and I can recommend two novels by Irish writers that take us to balmy destinations.

Arguably his finest novel to date, Kevin Barry's violent, elemental Night Boat to Tangier is set between Ireland and an atmospherically rendered Spain.

Beyond the Sea by Paul Lynch, in which two fishermen adrift on the Pacific Ocean confront their demons, is as good as anything I've read in recent memory. Mary Gaitskill's brief, thoughtful This Is Pleasure, about a New York publisher accused of harassment, is a reminder that fiction is an ideal space for exploring the grey areas that vanish in the online glare.

Finally, since reading Annie Ernaux's marvellous The Years, I've been enjoying what I can find in translation of this French autobiographical writer's back catalogue.

Rob Doyle is the author of 'Threshold' (Bloomsbury Circus) Lucy Sweeney Byrne

This summer I'm looking forward to reading A Sabbatical in Leipzig, the second book by Adrian Duncan, recent winner of the John McGahern Prize (for his first, Love Notes from a German Building Site). A friend, who recently read Sabbatical, described passages therein as profound enough to be "genuinely underlinable". 

I was recently sent a book by one of my favourite critical writers, Janet Malcolm, this time tackling another favourite, Chekhov. Appropriately, it's entitled Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey, and if I wasn't so thoroughly enjoying rereading Tropic of Cancer at the moment I'd already have started into it - I (somewhat hyperbolically) simply cannot wait. 

I'm currently based in the UK, and so am eagerly awaiting Cathy Sweeney's book, Modern Times. The cover is to die for.

Finally, I now live two villages away from the 'Northern love nest' (if such a thing exists - sounds chilly) of Monica Jones and Philip Larkin, and so to delude myself with some sort of commonality between myself and the poet, I recently bought Andrew Motion's biography, Philip Larkin; A Writer's Life. I'm hoping to learn as much about Monica as Larkin, but may have to hold out for the publication of their recently released final letters, which I await with shameless impatience.

Lucy Sweeney Byrne is the author of 'Paris Syndrome' (Banshee Press)

John O'Donnell

This summer I'm reading The Narrow Land, Christine Dwyer Hickey's prize-winning novel set in another summer on Cape Cod. It traces the intersection of the lives of two young boys, one American and one German, with the lives of the painter Edward Hopper and his wife Jo. A wonderful evocation of post-war America, full of loneliness and light. 

Donal Ryan's humanity and compassion have made him one of Ireland's favourite writers; like many others I'm eagerly awaiting his latest novel Strange Flowers.

Eavan Boland's death in April was a body blow to Irish literature. Thankfully we still have her poems; a final collection is due this autumn. In the meantime I'm looking forward to re-reading her Object Lessons. Part memoir, part guidebook on one woman's route into the Irish poetic tradition, Boland's essays are characteristically inspiring, lucid and incisive. 

My brother once met George Harrison. A self-proclaimed music buff, he nonetheless failed to recognise 'The Quiet One', instead demanding he produce ID before he would admit him to the studio where he was working. I'm hoping someone will give me Craig Brown's One Two Three Four for my birthday next month; there are already shelves groaning with books about the Beatles, but this sounds a real treat, full of quirky period details as well as telling observations about 'those little sissies,' as Muhammad Ali called them.

John O'Donnell's collection of short stories is 'Almost the Same Blue'(Doire Press)

Doireann Ni Ghriofa

Summer is such a pleasant time to read. All year I hoard books next to my bed, and once June arrives I dig in. This year the heap is particularly enticing. I just finished Optic Nerve by Argentine novelist Maria Gainza, a life vividly expressed through the prism of paintings. I came away from it exhilarated, as if I'd just returned from the galleries of Buenos Aires.

In Darran Anderson's Inventory, an object takes the focus of each chapter - a house key, a bottle top, a glass eye, a bus ticket, a shovel - and what follows is an extrapolation of loss, violence, and discovery. Through such acts of collection and recollection comes an absorbing and very beautiful book.

Hilary Fannin's The Weight of Love was published in March, and since then so many people have asked me excitedly if I've read it yet. "Soon," I always say. This morning I finally read the opening chapter, and now I'm itching to return to it. I was deeply saddened by the death of Tim Robinson earlier this year, and his Connemara is beckoning to me again - I think I'll read that next.  

Doireann Ni Ghriofa's 'A Ghost in the Throat' is published next month by Tramp Press

Adrian Duncan

Alice Lyons' first novel, Oona, tells the story of Oona, an artist emerging into adolescence and adulthood from the childhood trauma of the loss of her mother. The language play through this book is dazzling, but the emotional depth of the narrative and the relationships Oona makes with and through the world gives this work a singular drive. It is written entirely without the letter 'o', which is a feat in and of itself, but that it is done so seamlessly makes the endeavour all the more quietly impressive.   

Earlier this year I read Andy Lee's Fighter. Part memoir, part sports biography, it tells another story of emergence in the face of difficulty, this time through the eyes of Lee, an Irish professional boxer making his circuitous way to becoming WBO middleweight world champion. This book reveals much about the industry of contemporary boxing, but it also shines a light onto the soul of an athlete engaged in the most dangerous of sports - an insightful and moving personal chronicle.   

And finally, just last week I finished Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar -first published in 1951. It takes the form of a long valedictory letter from Emperor Hadrian to his successor Marcus Aurelius. It's rare for a work of such limber literary beauty to come from such depths of research, rigour and scholarship. One of the triumphs of many in this book is that at no moment do you believe the voice is anyone but of Hadrian himself. It is a work of incredible creative embodiment - wise and melancholy; a marvel.

Adrian Duncan recently won the John McGahern Book Prize for 'Love Notes from a German Building Site'. His second novel is 'A Sabbatical in Leip zig' (Lilliput Press)


Kathleen MacMahon

I've never been much of a poetry reader, but the lockdown changed all that. My brain was so busy that poetry was the only thing that could cut through the noise. I've been reading and re-reading Sean Hewitt's wonderful Tongues of Fire and loving its earthy themes of sex and nature and its many moments of beauty.

As soon as my concentration improved, I jumped on Bernardine Evaristo's Girl, Woman, Other and found it hugely smart and absorbing, all the way to its delightfully funny ending.

I loved John Boyne's last novel, The Heart's Invisible Furies, so I'm very much looking forward to reading his new one, A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom.

There's a new Donal Ryan due in August, so that's perfectly timed for my holidays in Connemara. It's called Strange Flowers and, according to Nicole in the Clifden Bookshop, it's "devastatingly good". 

Also due in August is Elaine Feeney's As You Were. I'm hearing great things about it, so I'll be the first in the queue to buy it when it comes out. In the meantime, I'm setting aside some quality reading time for Middlemarch. I've never read it before, so that's exciting.

Kathleen MacMahon's 'Nothing but Blue Sky' is published next week by Sandycove

Sunday Indo Living