Irish writers pick their top reads of 2015
The year in books saw a smattering of Irish and international blockbusters, some lesser-known masterpieces and an Elena Ferrante obsession. Here, 22 leading Irish authors offer their top choices for the last 12 months
Who said nothing good came out of the godforsaken recession? Paul Murray's The Mark and the Void is a great Irish novel - totally focussed with insight, wit, and deep madness on the institutional folly, individual caprice and communal abandon that led us into the abyss. Murray is totally immersed in modern Ireland - not just a guaranteed better read than the Banking Inquiry report - but more insightful as well.
The final part of Pádraig Yeates' trilogy on the Dublin of a century ago, A City in Civil War, is as readable, accurate and brilliant as his first two books in this magnificent social history series, A City in Wartime and a City in Turmoil, covering the decade from 1914. I am convinced these books will grow in importance because they bring that tumultuous 10 years to life, sparkling with Yeates' journalistic eye for human stories that illustrates that ordinary people are history makers.
Gene Kerrigan's The Scrap is totally based on the witness statements given by Easter Rising combatants to the Bureau of Military History - he has turned these records into a minute-by-minute thriller of that fateful seven days 100 years ago. The complexity of that time is also the focus of Neil Richardson's According to their Lights - Stories of Irishmen in the British Army, Easter 1916. One third of the British Army deaths in the Rising - 41 out of 117 - were Irish. Another superb addition to our understanding of that seminal week in our history .
Joe Duffy's book Children of the Rising was published this year
Máirtín Ó Cadhain's The Key/An Eochair dates from 1953 but was this year published in English for the first time. The translators, Louis De Paor and Lochlainn Ó Tuairisg, have given us a hilarious and bitingly satirical novella about a civil servant locked in his office, as well as in a nightmare of his own creation. Dalkey Archive present it here in a handsome bilingual edition. Like Ó Cadhain's 1949 novel Cré Na Cille, published in English this year (Yale University Press, in a translation by Alan Titley) as The Dirty Dust, it offers a chance to drink in the riches of one of the most visionary writers ever to come out of Ireland.
In contemporary fiction, I was really impressed by the unflinching and moving portrait of functional alcoholism which Doreen Finn creates in her debut novel, My Buried Life (New Island); for all the booze that abounds in Irish fiction, its insidious everyday shackles are only rarely portrayed so memorably.
Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts (Graywolf) is a brilliant and provocative memoir about lots of things, including love, motherhood and what it is to be a person, to be "normal" (or not). It's a remarkable piece of work, worth seeking out.
Belinda McKeon's second novel, Tender, was published by Picador this year
The Projectionist by Carlo Gebler (New Island) was the most remarkable non-fiction book I read in 2015 in which a son painstakingly tries to make sense of his utterly estranged father, Earnest Gebler's, unfinished autobiography. The father was burdened by childhood scars, bitterness and misogynistic paranoia. This memoir by default book reads like a process of reclamation, an attempt to understand a father by the son he spurned. It is a deeply sad but captivating study of a uniquely difficult man.
In poetry I was moved by What Just Happened by Sara Berkeley Tolchin (Gallery Press). She works as a hospice nurse in America and the everyday realities of death pervade poems that reflect on nursing and explore the relationships between mothers and daughters, written in the shadow of her mother's final illness in Ireland. She refuses to seek comfort in platitudes so that while these poems are heart-breaking, they never lose their poise or sharply minted clarity.
Hilary Fannin grew up on the same Raheny street as Sara Berkeley. Fannin's memoir Hopscotch (Transworld Ireland) captures the joys, fears and bewilderments of a 1960s Dublin childhood through the wonderful prism of an innocent young girl's puzzled attempts to navigate the muddy waters of her parents' world. It is written with a deft sleight of hand that makes it wonderfully funny and moving.
Dermot Bolger's latest novel, Tanglewood, and his new and selected poems, That Which is Suddenly Precious, were published by New Island in 2015
Like everyone else, I am enthralled by Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels, starting with My Brilliant Friend. Beginning in 1950s' Naples, this story of two women and the intricacies of their lives is simply unforgettable. And there are three more to read! She's described as the best writer you've never heard of but her time has come this year with huge international recognition.
Medicine - and doctors - are concerned with healing people, but coping with our mortality is another area altogether. Surgeon Atul Gawande's third non-fiction book, Being Mortal, examines illness, medicine and makes you think about life and death in a way you never have before. Brilliant and moving.
Clever, wise and as atmospheric as the heady scent of a perfume you once had, Beatriz Williams' A Hundred Summers starts on a Rhode Island beach town among elegant people on Memorial Day in 1938, where socialite Lily Dane bumps into both her exes - her former lover and her former best friend. Slipping back and forth in time, Williams seamlessly covers the social mores of the time, love and mystery. A peek into another world.
Cathy Kelly's novel Between Sisters was published this year
Andrew O'Hagan's The Illuminations dramatises the clash and the connection between the public and the private. His treatment of domestic life in the novel is engrossing and moving, and then the chapters on the war in Afghanistan have a panoramic force and sense of truth.
Thomas Morris's We Don't Know What We Are Doing is a book of stories mainly set in a small village in South Wales. Morris manages intimate detail with exquisite skill and emotional control. He has a special talent for rendering small moments of drama, giving them a dramatic force that makes this first book of stories really impressive and memorable.
Frank Auerbach is probably the greatest painter alive. This year saw a wonderful retrospective of his work at Tate Britain, with a superb catalogue, plus a book of interviews and essays - Frank Auerbach: Speaking and Painting, edited by Catherine Lambert.
Colm Tóibín's most recent book is On Elizabeth Bishop
Categorised as a YA/crossover title, Louise O'Neill's Asking for It (Quercus) is another novel of our times following her stunning debut Only Ever Yours. In the era of the smartphone and slut shaming, who do we want to believe, who do we want to blame and how are our opinions shaped? Strong, passionate writing makes this another powerful read from an accomplished author.
Dark and atmospheric, Cecilia Ekback's Wolf Winter (Hodder & Stoughton) is set in 18th century Swedish Lapland. Part murder-mystery and part fantasy, the freezing landscape is a backdrop to the repressed emotions that spill over when the young daughters of new settlers find a dead body. Their mother, left alone with the children when the father leaves, defies the local homesteaders to get to the bottom of the mystery. Beautiful writing and memorable characters mean this book will stay with you especially on dark winter nights.
The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency is my go-to series when I need something gentle and uplifting to read, and its 16th instalment - The Woman who Walked in Sunshine by Alexander McCall Smith (Little Brown) - contains all of the author's observations on life and humanity. Set in modern Botswana, the traditionally-built Mme Ramotswe struggles with changing times as well as life's age-old problems. There's a certain whimsy about the writing but it doesn't take away from the glorious depictions of the Kalahari and a life lived beneath the scorching sun.
Sheila O'Flanagan's novel My Mother's Secret was published by Headline this year
The Green Road remains unforgettable with its world view of the scattered Irish family drifting into all corners of the earth while the mother at home keeps the fragile link, getting them back for Christmas. The sweep of the book and Anne Enright's way of pulling this global migration story together with such energy and forensic detail puts her in there somewhere beside Toni Morrison.
There's only one book that got me out of the Ferrante addiction - that's Tom McCarthy's Satin Island. He is the great literary explorer of our time - mister anthropologist of the present - examining the way we are currently fragmenting, perhaps disappearing, like forgotten tribes, into a world of shadows.
In The Meursault Investigation, Kemel Daoud has the wonderful idea of picking up the background story of the Arab casually murdered in Albert Camus' great masterpiece, The Outsider. The effect of Daoud's imagined work is to almost convert fiction into a factual, historical portrait.
Hugo Hamilton's latest novel is Every Single Minute (4th Estate - HarperCollins)
A young woman is raped, photos of it appear on social media and the woman - not the rapist - is pilloried. The events in Asking For It by Louise O'Neill hint at several real life cases, reminding us that we're deluded to think we've made progress in the area of women's rights. O'Neill is righteously angry and utterly fearless and her voice is the voice of a new Ireland, of young women who didn't imbibe shame along with their mother's milk. This is one of the most relevant, most exciting novels to have been written about Ireland in a long time.
Short-listed for the Popular Fiction book of the year, Kate Beaufoy's Another Heartbeat In The House is a funny, elegantly-written, historical novel about a proto-feminist who might have been the inspiration for Thackeray's Becky Sharp. It's intelligent and intriguing, the sense of time and place totally transported me, and the heroine is really cool!
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson chops back and forth along a 100-year timeline, circling four generations of the same family, but at its centre is Teddy, a fighter pilot during WW2 and who, when he discovered he'd survived the war, 'never adjusted to having a future'. This is a beautiful, moving, hugely ambitious and often funny novel, with many big themes, the most obvious of which is the fragility of life. It engaged me on a deep emotional level.
The Woman Who Stole My Life by Marian Keyes is now out in paperback
One of the most disastrous consequences of the Enlightenment - and there are many - was that it encouraged us to reject the natural world and set ourselves up as secular gods, lording it over the 'lower species'. Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel, by Carl Safina (Henry Holt), is a superbly written, deeply moving and wholly unsentimental examination of what animals are, not in relation to us, but to themselves, and to the world we share with them.
Pascal Garnier, who died in 2010, is not for the faint-hearted, but at his best he is almost as good as Simenon, than which there could be no higher praise. His latest, Boxes (translated by Melanie Florence, Gallic Press), is a horribly funny novel about bereavement: appalling and bracing in equal measure, and the perfect antidote to Christmas.
The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time, by Jimena Canales (Princeton) is a thrilling account of the contentious meeting on April 6, 1922, between the father of Relativity and the French philosopher Henri Bergson, who challenged Einstein's mechanistic interpretation of the nature of time.
John Banville's novel The Blue Guitar was published this year
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews is a little gem of a book. It's heart-warming and heart-breaking in equal measure. It's the story of two sisters raised in the Mennonite community in Canada. Elfrieda is a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, happily married but she wants to die. Yolandi, divorced and broke, desperately wants to keep her older sister alive. The bonds of sisterhood and the struggles of depression and suicide are fully explored in this beautiful story. Toews manages to mix laughter and heart wrenching poignancy which is a rare and precious skill.
Sons+Fathers, edited by Kathy Gilfillan, is a beautifully produced book and one for the coffee table. It's a unique collection celebrating the special relationship between sons and fathers. International writers, actors, artists, musicians, politicians and entrepreneurs make up the list of contributors and all proceeds go to the Irish Hospice Foundation.
For charm, fun, pace and pathos Meet Me in Manhattan by Claudia Carroll is the perfect read for the holiday. Curl up and lose yourself in this laugh out loud yet poignant story about a single woman looking for love. A lot of the book takes place during the holiday season in New York and you get to feel all the magic of spending Christmas in the city that never sleeps.
Sinéad Moriarty's novel The Way We Were was published this year
Some of the books that gave me the most pleasure this year were debut novels. Out on its own was Sara Baume's Spill Simmer Falter Wither, a thrillingly exciting and inspiriting read. I just love what she does with words and I think she's a major literary talent. Her zinging, juicy sentences and her amazing storytelling enthralled me.
A very close second was Lisa McInerney's Inglorious Heresies, the funniest and naughtiest novel I've read in decades, the work of a major comic writer who truly understands all the nuances of her genre, its capacity to say really serious things while unbalancing and teasing us by making us laugh.
Louise O'Neill's absolutely wonderful Asking For It proved that it's possible for a novel aimed at young people to be a significant and provocative work of fiction if it's written with truth, skill and power. She doesn't condescend or write from a distance, as so many other Young Adult writers do. What an amazing novelist she is.
There were remarkable books of short stories from more established names. Donal Ryan's Slanting of the Sun and Colum McCann's Thirteen Ways of Looking are masterpieces of the miniature, final proof that less can be more.
Anne Enright's utterly captivating and beautiful novel, The Green Road is her best work to date. And the brilliant Kevin Barry's Beatlebone is a mad, sad, pleasure, the work of a writer who charges everything he does with an electricity of brilliance.
Finally, no overview of the Irish fiction published in 2015 would be complete without an inclusion of Edna O'Brien's astounding novel Little Red Chairs. For me, it's the novel of the year, the crowning achievement of her life as a writer. Reckless, over-ambitious, disdainful of all rules, it had me punching the air and exclaiming 'WOW'.
Joseph O'Connor is McCourt Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Limerick. His novel The Thrill of it All is published in paperback by Vintage and has been nominated for the Dublin International Literary Award
Not The Same Sky by Evelyn Conlon (Wakefield Press) is a gem of a novel that takes as its basis a true episode from the Famine era. Some 4,000 Irish girls were plucked from workhouses and transported to Australia by the British authorities to provide labour, and populate the colony. Already traumatised by near-starvation and family bereavements, many had to forget Ireland to survive in the harsh new environment. That was understandable. Less so was Ireland's desire to forget them in return. In this lyrical, humorous and humane work, Evelyn Conlon begins the reparation.
The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell (Michael Joseph) was the most offbeat - and charming - book I've read all year, it's the true story of a young teacher who rescues a penguin from an oil slick in South America and makes a lifelong friend. The author stumbles across the half-dead penguin on a beach and brings him home to clean him. But when he tries to release the little fellow into the sea, the penguin keeps waddling back to his side. And so begins a friendship between the Englishman and his gregarious pet, named Juan Salvador.
In The Dress by Kate Kerrigan (Head of Zeus) we follow the fortunes of a US socialite and an Irish dressmaker in the 1950s, interwoven with the story of a fashion blogger in present day London. But this dual timeline novel is not just about fashion (although clever women are also allowed to pay attention to clothes - Virginia Woolf took a passionate interest in her wardrobe). The plot explores the way gilded lives can be hollow at the core, and how dreams once achieved don't always deliver expected results. It's an intelligent and engaging read.
Martina Devlin's novel About Sisterland was published this year
It's always a dilemma to choose the "best" books. There's no gold medal, no silver, no bronze. Because of memory lapses I always end up leaving out some of my favourite novels, but one book I'm not going to forget this year is Demot Bolger's Tanglewood, which is a superb novel about the implosion not only of the economy in the mid-2000s, but the implosion of marriage and morality and memory too. Bolger does it masterfully, as always. He has been prying open the Irish ribcage since he was 16 years old. With Tanglewood all his talents are on display. Not only this but he also brought out a collection of his poetry this year. Pound for pound, word for word, I'd have Bolger represent us in any literary Olympics.
I left Tender on my bookshelf for a long time this year, mainly because I want to savour a writer like Belinda McKeon. I found the right time to read her just recently and this book lives up to all the expectations set after her first novel Solace. Her latest is a tight, tense, beautiful portrait of Ireland in the late 1990s, fed by the hum of a country recently released from its historical shackles. McKeon is a writer in marvellous control of her territory. Comparisons to John McGahern, Colm Tóibín and Jennifer Johnston are entirely apt.
The newcomer of the year is Irish-based writer Sarah Bannan. Her novel Weightless is full of perfectly considered tension and drama. She bears witness to the dark core of American youth culture and manages to write a novel that will appeal to all generations.
Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann was published this year
It has probably been said many times about the work of Baltimore-based Anne Tyler, but the phrase "art that conceals art" applies most definitely to her 20th novel, A Spool of Blue Thread. On the surface, this story might initially appear to be a chatty chronicle of three generations of the Whitshank family (even the name evokes sensory images) who inhabit the home, lovingly constructed with passionate attention to plank and dowel by one of its senior members. In a sense the house and its fate occupies as much importance in the book as the lives of those within. I cannot dig either it, or its inhabitants, out of my mind.
The title of Dermot Bolger's latest anthology of new and selected poetry, That Which is Suddenly Precious, is self-explanatory. His sense of place - Finglas in north Dublin, the city of Dublin that he clearly loves, the town of Wexford - have shone through all his work and are evinced here again, with sometimes a single word or phrase encapsulating a small universe.
Some of the lines from the poem that gives this new book its title, commemorate for all time the feelings Bolger experienced following the untimely death of his wife, Bernie, and are almost unbearably revealing.
Amidst the plethora of "timely" volumes about the rebellion of 1916 that continue to pour on to the shelves of bookshops, the one I will treasure is Joe Duffy's handsomely produced, intelligently researched, very well written Children of the Rising. Appropriately illustrated, it commemorates the group of 40 youngsters from all backgrounds who have been rarely mentioned until now but whose lives were brutally ended by "bomb and bullet".
To find how many children under 16 had been killed and who they were, proved to be a mammoth three-year exercise, illustrated by Duffy's extensive list of acknowledgements of many individuals and institutions.
And for me, possibly the saddest sentence occurs towards the end of these acknowledgements: "there remains fifteen of the forty for whom no relatives could be found.
Deirdre Purcell's novel The Winter Gathering was published last year
I spent 2015 serving as Jury Chair for Canada's Giller Prize so most of my reading - 168 books - was based around Canadian literature. My favourite novel was the winner, Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis, a witty and poignant fable wherein the gods Hermes and Apollo grant consciousness to a group of kennelled canines in Toronto in a quest to discover whether they can be happy with human attributes. The second in a proposed quincunx of novels that aims to revitalise forgotten forms, Fifteen Dogs takes on the apologue with great skill and originality.
All my other favourites this year were by women writers and the two stand-outs were Tessa Hadley's claustrophobic The Past, wherein a group of family members gather at their childhood home for a three week holiday, and Belinda McKeon's Tender, which explores a curious and utterly believable relationship between a gay man and a straight woman. Also worthy of mention are Paula McGrath's Generation, Rachel Cusk's Outline, Nuala O'Connor's Miss Emily and Sarah Crossan's One.
John Boyne's latest books are a collection of short stories, Beneath The Earth, and a novel for young readers, The Boy At The Top Of The Mountain, both published this year
A book that made me laugh and broke my heart at the same time was A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. Ove, a cantankerous man who lives life by its rules, has lost his wife and is struggling to find his place in the world without her.
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang: is the story of Sprout, an egg-laying hen who escapes the coop with dreams of hatching her own chick. It's a beautiful fable-like tale that has so many layers and covers many themes such as the parent and child bond, the cycle of life and personal freedom.
Grief Is The Thing With Feathers by Max Porter relates how a husband and two boys come to terms with the death of their mother. It's about grief and everybody can identify with this story. It is moving and the language is beautiful.
One of the most memorable stories I've read this year was The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault. Bilodo, a lonely postman who lives an isolated life, suddenly must learn the art of haiku. The plot is inventive, the writing is wonderful.
My final choice is Freedom's Child by Jax Miller: Freedom has a foul mouth, an alcohol problem, served time in prison for killing her abusive husband and is in the Federal Witness Protection Program. Jax Miller has created a fresh and unique character here, with a big heart.
Cecelia Ahern's novel The Marble Collector was published this year
There's nothing worse for a writer than to hear the hoof beats of fresh new literary talent beating out their happy paths somewhere in the near-distance, just there over your shoulder. This year has been especially trying - there have been infuriatingly brilliant debuts from Danielle McLaughlin (Dinosaurs on Other Planets) and Claire-Louise Bennett (Pond), from Lisa McInerney (The Glorious Heresies) and Max Porter (Grief is the Thing with Feathers), from Thomas Morris (We Don't Know What We're Doing) and Sara Baume (Spill Simmer Falter Wither). And these, God help me, are only the debuts I've read.
In non-fiction, let there be garlands and kisses, please, for Darren Anderson whose Imaginary Cities is a definitive survey, and for the venerable Douglas Coupland, whose Kitten Clone is one of the best and smartest things yet written about the Internet and how it's taking over and not-so-quietly destroying our minds.
Kevin Barry's novel Beatlebone was published this year
About Sisterland by Martina Devlin is an extraordinary novel about a dystopian matriarchal society in which men are used for hard labour or to 'service' women in order to propagate the human race. There is an awful lot in here.
At various stages, I was thinking of Palestine/Israel (what happens when the oppressed become the oppressors), Apartheid, gender politics, sexual politics, 1916 and the foundation of the state, slavery, body dismorphia, how power corrupts, environmental conservation, the Magdalene laundries, religious cults inter alia. I'm really in awe of how Devlin covered all of these issues with such dexterity. It is a very clever and brave book on such a contentious subject.
Are You Watching Me by Sinéad Crowley is the second in a series of detective novels but you don't need to have read the first to follow this most intriguing story. Detective Clare Boyle may be slightly obsessed by her job to the detriment of her family life. Clare does not let her needy husband or teething baby get in the way of her job. What I love about Crowley's story is that it defies all of the stereotypes. Clare doesn't have a drink or drug problem, or an affair with her male boss and, uniquely, the murder victims are not young and female. The story is well constructed and Clare's first day back at work after maternity leave is so cleverly and deceptively described that you will be hooked straight away.
Where would we be without Marian Keyes? Her fun and humour shines through every page of The Woman Who Stole My Life as her female protagonist battles through an incredibly rare mysterious illness, becomes an internationally successful Manhattan-based lifestyle icon and, overnight, loses everything and ends up back in her very ordinary home life in Dublin trying to cope with her ex-husband's mid-life crisis and her children's utter disdain for her. Of course there is a love story brewing away in the background and Stella's dashing consultant Mannix fits the bill. Anyone who follows Marian's hilarious antics on Twitter might easily figure out who the handsome DJ Ned Mount might be! This novel reads as if Marian herself is having a chat with you and is full of her trademark wit, wisdom and heart.
Liz Nugent's first book, Unravelling Oliver won the Crime Novel award at the Irish Book Awards last year. Her second novel Lying in Wait will be published in July
In their monumentally magnificent two-volume, 2,000 page Poems of TS Eliot - a handsome, definitive work of rigorous, invigorating and enlightening scholarship - editors Christopher Ricks and Jim McCue prove that more is more.
I didn't know that 'Journey of the Magi' was written "in three quarters of an hour after church time and before lunch one Sunday morning with the assistance of half a bottle of Booth's gin", nor his 'poem' from November 1910 'The Triumph of Bullshit'. Here is the many-sided genius that is Eliot.
Sara Berkeley's new collection, What Just Happened contains poems that explore 'The heart without compass/ The journey without a map' in an Irish and Californian setting.
These wise, sensory poems about living far from home, her mother's death, an ex-husband's suicide, her 13-year-old daughter learning to drive and coyotes, achieve 'a benediction of some sort'.
Andrew Dickson's Worlds Elsewhere - Journeys Around Shakespeare's Globe is a terrific and lively account of the different takes on Shakespeare. It proves again that Shakespeare, whose themes of journeying and exile are prevalent and relevant, is not only for all time but has been performed everywhere: on ships, in prisons, during the 1849 Gold Rush and in 21st century Beijing with two on-stage heavy-metal bands.
Finally, Instrumental by James Rhodes is a shocking, brutal, anarchic, straight-talking memoir by an abused, damaged and hugely talented soul. His honest account of a traumatic life, love for his son and passion for classical music, is both powerful and unforgettable.
Niall MacMonagle's Windharp - Poems of Ireland since 1916 was published this year
In a year in which readers everywhere sobbed publicly over Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life and lost themselves in the choral exuberance of Marlon James's Booker-winning A Brief History of Seven Killings, the short form made a satisfying contrast. There are highlights: Dinosaurs on Other Planets is Danielle McLaughlin's electrifying collection of stories about people like us, ugly secrets, dark shadows and all, while Thomas Morris's We Don't Know What We're Doing is wry and shrewd and unstintingly empathic.
And encompassing more than just short fiction, the Winter Pages anthology, edited by Olivia Smith and Kevin Barry (he of generous slice of brilliance, Beatlebone), is a dazzling thing, stuffed with all sorts of arty goodness. The only reason it's not a coffee table book is that it's far too precious to risk getting biscuit crumbs on.
Meanwhile, Paul McVeigh's The Good Son gave us one of the most engaging protagonists of the year in 10-year-old Mickey Donnelly, who occupies a space between whimsy and horror in Troubles-era Ardoyne.
Belinda McKeon's Tender is a complex and caustic and utterly engrossing novel about much more than friendship. Emily Mackie's In Search of Solace examines identity, and all of its mysteries and delusions, with remarkable wit and a rather lovely cast of characters. And without compare is Gavin Corbett's exquisitely magical and gorgeously grotesque Green Glowing Skull, in which three Irish-born singers in New York try to make it amid a proliferation of technological cults, subterranean shih tzus and fairyfolk from the old country.
Lisa McInerney's novel The Glorious Heresies was published this year
I read William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood (Abacus) for the second time this year - I was feeling a bit low this summer and it was great because it's very, very funny (Goldman was screenwriter on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President's Men). It's a classic about hustling in Hollywood. It's a very insightful book; he's a hugely successful screenwriter and given that Irish movies are doing so well at the moment it's interesting to read about those at the top. The book is a primer for anyone who has aspirations to work in the film world.
I read Love and Lies by Clancy Martin (Harvill Secker) this year. Martin is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. It's brilliantly funny and we all need a laugh. It's about how we love and lie and everyone should read it - it should be on the school curriculum! The chapter headings are good: the first chapter is 'A Brief Introduction to the Morality of Deception'. It's both entertaining and serious about how we fool ourselves and others and how we engage with love.
My third book this year is Ardennes 1944: Hitler's Last Gamble by military historian Antony Beevor (Viking). He is a very good writer and an eminent historian. It's about the last throw of the dice for the German army when they knew the war was lost and makes for interesting reading when you think of Europe today and the return of the far right. It's another insight into Hitler; a fascinating book, totally absorbing.
Eamon Dunphy's memoir The Rocky Road was published by Penguin Ireland in paperback last year
I loved The Long Gaze Back, an anthology of short stories by Irish women writers. In the year of 'Waking The Feminists' and a national conversation about the exclusion of female voices from the artistic canon, Sinéad Gleeson's decision to create and edit this collection seems eerily prescient. A lovely stocking filler for Christmas.
The decriminalisation of sex work has been a topic of furious debate within the feminist community and I've heard incredibly articulate arguments for both sides. While I'm still unsure of my own stance, Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work by Melissa Gira Grant is a furious, brilliant look at the hypocrisy that often accompanies the conversations surrounding sex workers' lives.
It seems to be mandatory these days for comedians to release a collection of humorous essays but of all the ones I've read recently, Off You Go by Maeve Higgins and Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling were particularly impressive.
And for my guilty pleasure read of the year, the honour goes to The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, a fictionalised retelling of the romance between Prince William and Kate Middleton. It even includes a playboy younger brother with an eye for the ladies... Immense fun.
Louise O'Neill's novel Asking For It was published this year
Picture books 2015
Wilhelmina Geddes: Life and work
Nicola Gordon Bowe
Four Courts Press, hdbk, 508 pages, €50
Some years ago, NCAD lecturer Nicola Gordon Bowe produced the standard and much-acclaimed work on Harry Clarke (now in its fourth edition) and this October she did the same for another gifted stained-glass artist, the largely forgotten Belfast woman Wilhelmina Geddes, born in 1887.
When she died in 1955, Geddes was described as 'the greatest stained glass artist of our time' whose monumental directness of treatment constituted a revival of the medieval genius. Yet a full appreciation of her powerful figurative art was limited to a relative few and she was overlooked for many years.
Now this magnificent 500-page large format book, full of beautiful colour illustrations, reveals her to be a medieval-modernist of rare intellect, skill and aesthetic integrity, whose career spanned two world wars. Showing much of her remarkable stained glass work but also including other media such as printmaking and textiles, including her involvement in the Arts and Crafts movement, this study celebrates Geddes' extraordinary artistic achievement.
The book was one of the best coffee table volumes to appear this year.
Mercier Press, hdbk, 22 pages, €24.99
With the, er, uprising of coffee table books about 1916 showing the devastation caused by the Rising and the British reaction, this one was a welcome reminder of what the centre of Dublin was like before so many buildings and streets were destroyed. Using tinted photographs and postcards, it gives a unique window into everyday life in the city during the two decades before 1916 when Dublin was the second city of the Empire.
The main photograph on this page features College Green, c1890. This scene shows the façade of Trinity College and a bustling College Green, with the statue of King William of Orange, trams, horses and carts and a group of Royal Dublin Fusiliers. The Dublin Fusiliers were formed in 1881 and the regiment was involved in many battles, including the Easter Rising, when three of its battalions were sent to attack the rebels.
The cover photograph on the book features Sackville Street, c1901. In the foreground stands the statue of William Smith O'Brien which later migrated to O'Connell Street.
Viking Dublin: The Wood Quay Excavations
Viking Dublin: The Wood Quay Excavations
Dr Patrick E Wallace
Irish Academic Press, hdbk, 508 pages, €60
The Save Wood Quay campaign in the 1970s was seen at the time largely as a failure. In fact, the protests led to extensive excavations which uncovered and preserved a great deal of the 1,000-year-old Viking town including building foundations, fences, yards, pathways and quaysides, as well as thousands of artefacts.
The young archaeologist Pat Wallace, who later became director of the National Museum, led the work. His new book, a magnificent 600-page large format volume tells the story. With over 500 colour images, maps, and drawings, and detailed descriptions and analysis of the artefacts, this pioneering study is the coffee table book of the year.