Thursday 14 November 2019

Cast your vote: Bestsellers in search of coveted award

The six books on this year's Popular Fiction shortlist are marked by energy, diversity, comedy and pathos, writes Madeleine Keane  

Sophie White is shortlisted for 'Filter This'
Sophie White is shortlisted for 'Filter This'
Cecelia Ahern
Dublin-born writer Anne Griffin
Sinéad Moriarty

Madeleine Keane

There's no end to the ability of this country to generate commercial fiction. Often dismissed with the withering 'chick-lit' tag, in fact the many writers who produce, year-on-year, readable, enjoyable, relatable stories is testament not just to their talents, but also to the hundreds of thousands of readers out there who demand it.

I've always disliked literary snobbery and my view has consistently been that whatever gets you reading is valid. In my case it was the retrospectively much-maligned Enid Blyton who stoked a passion in curious five-year-old me that has given a lifetime of joy and solace as well as a deeply rewarding profession. And I lured one of my children back to books (she had misplaced the habit while studying for law) with the redoubtable Marian Keyes. She never looked back.

This year's shortlist for the National Book Tokens Popular Fiction Book of the Year, comprises a sextet of novels which bear all the hallmarks of bestselling writing. Instagram, bereavement, love, rugby and regret - all human life is here and handled with humour, empathy, sensitivity and insight.

Remember these awards are as much about you the readers as they are about the writers. So make your voice heard, in this and all the other awards categories that interest you. Cast your vote for your favourite title by going to irishbookawards.irish.

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Four lucky readers will each win a €100 voucher from National Book Tokens.

So assured, moving and funny is Sophie White's Filter This (Hachette Ireland) that it's hard to believe it is her first novel. A witty take on the mad universe of social media and the vapid influencers who dominate the digital world, it also features a great love story and the poignant sub-plot of a father ravaged by dementia. Her handling of this as well as her astute, amusing observations on the realities beneath the immaculately curated Insta stories, reveal White (a columnist with this newspaper and a talented podcaster) as a writer to watch out for. The sequel is due out in the spring.

Another first on the shortlist is When All is Said (Hodder & Stoughton). A chance encounter in a bar with an old man was the spark that inspired Anne Griffin's imaginative debut. When All Is Said is composed of five toasts to five people and a look back at one man's complicated life. Central to the story's success is the narrator Maurice Hannigan, "a confident, compassionate creation", as Alfred Hickling reviewing for The Guardian opined. Griffin is also in the running for this newspaper's Newcomer of the Year award.

At the time she told her publishers she'd never write a follow-up. The year was 2004 and the book was P.S. I Love You. Fifteen years, gazillions of sales and the full Hollywood film treatment starring Hilary Swank as the grievously bereaved Holly later, and Cecelia Ahern has revisited her magic formula. In Postcript (HarperFiction), Ahern's heroine has moved on (and indeed in with tree surgeon Gabriel). An appearance on her sister's podcast draws her into contact with seven strangers who require Holly's help with their own losses. "Heartachingly beautiful" ran one enraptured reader's review.

In totally different vein, Paul Howard continues the march of his magnificent magnum opus with Schmidt Happens (Penguin Ireland). In this, the 19th novel in the weird, wonderful world of Ross O'Carroll-Kelly, his wife Sorcha has given birth to another man's child, his mother is on the warpath, dad is plotting to be Taoiseach and the triplets are causing mayhem. Then, the Schmidt really hits the fan. And as always our enduring protagonist manages to be both fabulous and ghastly at the same time. Roysh!

One of the Irish publishing sensations of recent years has been a young one from Ballygobbard: she's 28 and, as the saying goes, a complete Aisling. Sarah Breen and Emer McLysaght return with their heroine in Once, Twice, Three Times an Aisling (Gill Books) and the third of a five book series. Aisling's appeal has always been her humour and her innate decency. As Liadan Hynes, reviewing the latest instalment on these pages wrote "Breen and McLysaght balance out their heroine's goody two shoes traits with lashings of heart". A film is in the pipeline.

Seven Letters (Penguin Ireland) completes our shortlist of six. Not unlike the American author Jodi Picoult in her ability to take on tragic topics and weave a gripping, thoughtful narrative, Sinead Moriarty has done just this with her 14th novel. Sarah is pregnant with her second child when she falls into a coma; the dilemmas and reverberations which rain down on her devastated family are explored with sensitivity and compassion. Sinead observed how "Seven Letters was, at times, difficult to write but I am really happy with how it turned out. It's a story about life, family, joy, tragedy, love and letting go."

The winners of the An Post Irish Book Awards 2019 will be announced at a gala ceremony on November 20 at the Convention Centre in Dublin. A show of the highlights will be broadcast on RTE 1 on November 24

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