Tuesday 22 October 2019

Laughter, tears and dollop of Irish wit

This year's list for Specsavers Popular Fiction Award shows the genre still captivates us, writes Margaret Madden

The late Emma Hannigan's 'Letters To My Daughters' novel expresses love and light
The late Emma Hannigan's 'Letters To My Daughters' novel expresses love and light

Margaret Madden

Often referred to as a 'guilty pleasure', popular fiction sales indicate that it is a genre we continue to enjoy. Why should we feel "guilty" about loving a book that has captivated us? The author has done their job. They have managed to transport us into their world and connect to their characters. All hail popular fiction, I say! Escapism is highly underrated. This year's shortlist has laughter, tears, contemporary anecdotes and observations and plenty of Irish wit.

Everyone's favourite country girl is back in The Importance of Being Aisling by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen (Gill Books, €14.99). Aisling is "home, home" after involuntary redundancy. Packing up her belongings in her trusty Micra, she returns to mind Mammy while she contemplates her next (cautious) move. But with Aisling's friends paired-up, she's feeling left behind. And why is Mammy looking at property brochures? Could she be getting notions?

Ross O'Carroll-Kelly returns in Dancing With The Tsars (Penguin Ireland, €13.99) and, unsurprisingly, life is far from simple. Separated (again) from Sorcha, Ross finds himself as a stay-at-home Dad, attempting to dissuade his son from getting married and helping his daughter in her quest to win the most coveted prize in South Dublin: The Strictly Mount Anville glitter ball. Meanwhile, his own father has instigated a political war with the feminist movement. Cue mayhem.

Eithne Shortall blends grief with humour in Grace After Henry (Corvus, €18.20). House hunting in Dublin 8, Grace has a bad feeling when Henry fails to meet her at a scheduled viewing. Her intuitions are correct. A strong set of characters bring this story to life as Grace moves into her new home and tries to move on with life after Henry. A weekly meeting at Glasnevin cemetery, encounters with her parents and a quirky neighbour provide the laugh-out-loud moments, balancing the sadness. In Our Secrets and Lies (Penguin Ireland, €7.49) Sinead Moriarty addresses the pressures we place on ourselves as parents and how these can be more about our own insecurities than those of our children. Abandoned by her twins' father, Lucy has struggled to give her children everything they have needed in life. Securing them a place in a prestigious school, she is determined they will enter adulthood with every available opportunity afforded to them. But she fails to notice her teenagers' unhappiness. School life in the digital-age comes with a whole other level of stress.

The Irish writing world lost one of its brightest stars earlier this year, with the passing of Emma Hannigan. Letters To My Daughters (Hachette Books Ireland, €8,24) is full of her trademark love and light. When the Brady sisters learn of the death of their beloved childhood nanny May, it brings up feelings of resentment for their own mother, Martha, a talented midwife with no maternal instincts. All living very different lives, the sisters reunite for the reading of nanny May's will, without Martha who has neglected to mention that she has some stolen letters hidden in her handbag.

Correspondence is once again used to reveal secrets in Graham Norton's A Keeper (Coronet,€14.99). Having fled Ireland for an academic career in New York, Elizabeth is back following the death of her mother.

A box of letters hidden at the back of the wardrobe reveals her mother's secret and the tale of a lonely man living with his mother on a wind-swept dairy farm, in the middle of nowhere. Writing in the "Now" and "Then", Norton embraces the wild Irish landscape and the ceremony of tea-drinking in rural towns.

From Dublin to Sligo, via the midlands, there is plenty of ground covered in this year's crop of commercial fiction.

To vote for your favourite title go to www.irishbookawards.ie

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