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Culture Guide 2021: Books

Niamh Donnelly looks ahead to the most anticipated books of the first half of this year as well as some of the hot debut authors and the big names making a return


Rememberings: Sinéad O’Connor’s memoir, out this summer, will recount a ‘fraught childhood, musical triumphs, struggles with illness and the enduring power of song’

Rememberings: Sinéad O’Connor’s memoir, out this summer, will recount a ‘fraught childhood, musical triumphs, struggles with illness and the enduring power of song’

Rememberings: Sinéad O’Connor’s memoir, out this summer, will recount a ‘fraught childhood, musical triumphs, struggles with illness and the enduring power of song’

At the beginning of 2020, we made plans, and God, or whoever holds the strings to the universe, laughed. So it feels wise to add a caveat to this 2021 books preview: this is a moveable feast. Some of these books were originally pegged for release last year, but got pushed back on account of the pandemic. There’s no doubt others will find themselves subject to whatever shake-ups 2021 has in store. But you can’t blame us for looking forward when there’s so much to look forward to. From dazzling debuts to returning favourites and much more in between, there might be an argument for staying in during 2021 after all.


The Death of Francis Bacon
Max Porter (Faber)

From the beloved author of Grief is the Thing with Feathers and Lanny, a series of “seven extraordinary written pictures” imagines the artist Francis Bacon’s deathbed musings. Despite its small size, this will surely be one of the biggest titles of the year.

Speak Your Truth
Fearne Cotton (Orion Spring)

Prompted by a throat operation, after which she was unable to speak, the well-known presenter and podcaster explores how to find your voice and assert yourself.


Fearne Cotton

Fearne Cotton

Fearne Cotton

Last One to Die
Cynthia Murphy (Scholastic)

A 16-year-old Irish girl moves to London only to discover that attacks on young women with a striking resemblance to her are rampant in this debut for teen readers which is shot through with a supernatural twist.

The Listening Path
Julia Cameron (Profile Books)

Video of the Day

Known for her 1992 guide to creativity, The Artist’s Way, Cameron brings our attention once again to practices that nurture our creativity in this six-week guide to the art of listening.

The Dark Room
Sam Blake (Corvus)

This is the latest thriller from bestselling author, literary scout and founder of writing.ie, Sam Blake, aka Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin. Set in a “house full of mystery” in West Cork, it revolves around two women and their intertwined investigations.

Naked: Ten Truths to Change Your Life
Caroline Foran (Hachette)

The third book from the author of Owning It and The Confidence Kit offers “bullshit-free” advice for overcoming anxiety and challenging unhelpful mental mindsets and behaviour.

Hidden Lies
Rachel Ryan ­(Piatkus)

Georgina’s young son Cody befriends a mysterious “New Granny” in this psychological thriller from debut Dublin author Rachel Ryan. Is this “Granny” an imaginary friend, or is there something more sinister out there?


Debut author Rachel Ryan

Debut author Rachel Ryan

Debut author Rachel Ryan

Fidget the Wonder Dog
Patricia Forde (Puffin)

Children’s author Patricia Forde and illustrator Rachael Saunders bring a warm picture book that paints the friendship between a girl and her dog, Fidget.

A Crooked Tree
Una Mannion (Faber)

A moment of rage. A mother pulls over the car and tells her 12-year-old daughter to get out then accelerates away. This “moment that will change everything” opens this debut novel, dubbed “a devastating journey through family life in suburban 80s America”.

Words to Shape My Name
Laura McKenna (New Island)

The meaning of freedom is at the heart of this debut novel, which takes place in 1857, when a young woman named Harriet Small is bequeathed her father’s “True Narrative” — an account of life after escaping slavery in South Carolina and his journey into revolutionary Ireland.

Girl A
Abigail Dean (Harper Collins)

An examination of childhood trauma and survival, this crime debut is likely to dominate bestseller lists in 2021. It tells the story of Lex Gracie, who escaped her family “House of Horrors” as a child, only to return years later when her mother dies, leaving the house to Lex and her six estranged siblings.

Raven Leilani (Picador)

“The first time we have sex, we are both fully clothed, at our desks during working hours, bathed in blue computer light.” The opening sentence of Leilani’s Luster announces her as a debut novelist with bite. Already a hit in the US — it was released there in August — it tells of a young black woman’s relationship with an older man who’s in an open marriage, and thrashes through conventional notions of the novel, marriage and black womanhood in the process.

What If We Stopped Pretending
Jonathan Franzen (4th Estate)

Previously published in the New Yorker, this climate change manifesto from the author of The Corrections analyses a planet on the cusp of catastrophe and asks what humans can do to respond.

Dostoevsky in Love
Alex Christofi (Bloomsbury)

In this autobiography, Christofi weaves the ­autobiographical sections of Dostoevsky’s fiction together with factual sources from diaries and letters, and tells the story of his three great loves: Maria, his first wife; Polina Suslova, a young woman with whom he travelled around Europe; and Anna Grigorievna, his second wife.

The Survivors
Jane Harper (Little, Brown)

This standalone mystery from the Australian author (The Dry, Force of Nature, The Lost Man) is set on the Tasmanian coast and deals with secrets that emerge when Kieran Elliott revisits his hometown. An absent brother, a body discovered on a beach, a sunken wreck and a missing girl all form part of the mystery.

Thin Places
Kerri Ní ­Dochartaigh (Canongate)

Centred on Ní Dochartaigh’s upbringing in Derry during the Troubles, Thin Places blends memoir, nature writing, social history and politics to explore the healing to be found in unexpected “thin” places.

Life Sentences
Billy O’Callaghan (Jonathan Cape)

This novel, based on true stories told by the Cork writer’s parents and grandparents, begins with a woman leaving her island in the aftermath of the Famine and moves through three generations of war, violence and love.


Billy O'Callaghan

Billy O'Callaghan

Billy O'Callaghan


Above Water
Trish Kearney (Hachette)

Admirers of the podcast Where Is George Gibney? may remember Kearney’s voice as one of the survivors of abuse at the hands of the notorious swimming coach. Here, she records her story: that of an Olympic hopeful in a happy family whose potential was destroyed by the wrongs done to her.

All Our Hidden Gifts
Caroline ­O’Donoghue (Walker Books)

Journalist, podcaster and novelist Caroline O’Donoghue’s third novel, All Our Hidden Gifts, is aimed at young adults and features schoolgirl Maeve, who has a gift for tarot readings. One day a classmate draws an unfamiliar card and vanishes without a trace.

The Art of Falling
Danielle McLaughlin (John Murray)

Just as art curator Nessa McCormack is beginning to get her career off the ground and her marriage back on track after her husband’s affair, the past crawls up and threatens to ruin everything in the much-anticipated novel by short-story sensation McLaughlin.

The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh
Helen Rutter ­(Scholastic)

Eleven-year-old Billy has a dream of being a stand-up comedian — a dream that seems impossible because he has a stammer. A tale of finding your voice and triumphing against the odds.

To Star the Dark
Doireann Ní Ghríofa (Dedalus)

Ní Ghríofa goes back to her poetry roots after the success of her prose debut, A Ghost in the Throat, which was An Post Irish Book of the Year 2020. Her second English-language poetry collection delves into familiar themes: the female experience, motherhood, daughterhood and the journey of creativity.

Open Water
Caleb Azumah Nelson (Viking)

At once an exploration of intimacy between two young artists in south-east London, and “a love song to black art and thought”, this short debut novel contains multitudes.

Let Me Tell You What I Mean
Joan Didion (Fourth Estate)

Twelve never-before collected pieces from the early part of the illustrious essayist’s five-decade career promise to give “an illuminating glimpse into the mind and process of Joan Didion”.

A Net for Small Fishes
Lucy Jago ­(Bloomsbury)

Marketed as “the Thelma and Louise of the 17th century”, this historical novel is based on a true scandal in the court of James I of England and has a friendship between two very different women at its heart.

Sonic White Poise
Patrick Cotter (Dedalus)

The first book in over a decade from the Cork-born poet is a collection of “witty, odd and sometimes surreal poems” which embrace the strangeness of the world.

Ten Days
Austin Duffy (Granta)

The second novel from the author of This Living and Immortal Thing is set between contemporary New York and Ireland. When his recently estranged wife dies from cancer, a man travels to the US with his daughter to scatter her ashes. But he must also battle the antagonism of her conservative Jewish family and put wrongs right before it is too late.

Light Perpetual
Francis Spufford (Faber)

A German rocket incinerates a south London store, killing five children. But in an alternate reality, the five souls live through 20th century London.

Three Mothers
Anna Malaika Tubbs (William Collins)

A celebration of black motherhood through the stories of the women who raised Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and James Baldwin.

The Rag and Bone Shop
Veronica O’Keane (Allen Lane)

Leading psychiatrist O’Keane has spent years observing what happens when the process of memory is disrupted by mental illness. Here she draws on these insights to get to the bottom of how memory works and delve into the puzzle of the human brain.

The Panic Years
Nell Frizzell ­(Transworld)

This memoir from journalist and Vogue columnist Nell Frizzell is aimed at women trying to navigate the gap between adolescence and mid-life. The heated question “should I have a baby?” is at its core.

No One is Talking About This
Patricia Lockwood (Bloomsbury)

Rather, everyone is talking about this, the first novel from the author of the hilarious memoir Priestdaddy. It deals with an influencer-type travelling the world, speaking to her adoring fans on what she calls “the portal”. Two texts from her mother — “Something has gone wrong”, “How soon can you get here” — puncture her absurd life.

Pure Gold
John Patrick McHugh (New Island)

All the stories in John Patrick McHugh’s debut short-story collection take place on an imaginary island off the west coast of Ireland: two boys setting fires while their worlds fall apart; a horse crashing a house party. McHugh is a clever and vibrant new voice.

This is How They Tell Me the World Ends
Nicole Perlroth (Bloomsbury)

Cybersecurity reporter Perlroth unpacks the computer-software vulnerability known as a zero-day, a bug that allows hackers to tap into any iPhone, dismantle safety controls at a chemical plant, cut power to an entire nation, and more.

A Good Father
Catherine Talbot (Sandycove)

Told from the perspective of a controlling man who sees himself as a good influence on his family, this psychological thriller goes to dark places as he contemplates the unthinkable.

We Are Not in the World
Conor O’Callaghan (Doubleday)

Displacement, exile and a father-daughter relationship are at the heart of Conor O’Callaghan’s second novel, which takes place on a haulage lorry moving through France.


Klara and the Sun
Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber)

Klara, an Artificial Friend, observes the behaviour of shoppers from her place in the store. She awaits the day a customer might choose her, but when the possibility for change arises, she is warned not to invest too much in the promises of humans.

Transcendent Kingdom
Yaa Gyasi (Viking)

Gyasi’s second novel is a tale of tangled trauma. As a child, our protagonist would ask her parents to tell her the story of their journey to Ghana. Years later, she turns to science to understand the opioid addiction that destroyed her brother’s life.

The Black and Tans, 1920–1921
Jim Herlihy (Four Courts Press)

Herlihy lists every individual member of the three distinct RIC groups, along with a chapter on tracing and identifying ‘Black and Tan’ ancestors in the RIC Nominal Roll of January 1, 1921.

Acts of Desperation
Megan Nolan ­(Jonathan Cape)

An intense and doomed relationship with a beautiful man is at the centre of this novel, which sees a first-person female narrator move through her early twenties in a state of disastrous passion. Power dynamics, female desire and more are scrutinised in a voice that is both compelling and relentless.

What Matters Now
Gareth O’Callaghan (Hachette)

In 2018, radio presenter Gareth O’Callaghan received a life-changing diagnosis: multiple systems atrophy. The rare, incurable disease has a fatal prognosis. His memoir records his coming-to-terms with a new way of living and explains how inner reserves and determination have buoyed him.


Gareth O'Callaghan

Gareth O'Callaghan

Gareth O'Callaghan

The Disconnect
Roisin Kiberd (Serpent’s Tail)

A series of interlinked essays, Kiberd’s first book looks at the evaporating line between the internet and real life, and the irony between being more connected than ever, and the disconnect that this breeds.

Places of Mind: Edward Said
Timothy Brennan (Bloomsbury)

A comprehensive biography of the celebrated intellectual and pioneer of postcolonial studies, authorised by his estate and drawing on extensive archival sources and interviews.

No One Can Change Your Life Except For You
Laura Whitmore (Orion Spring)

The television host brings a “frank, heartfelt, inspirational and funny” first book that shares her experiences of overcoming heartbreak, body image struggles, self-doubt and insecurity.

What Abigail Did That Summer
Ben Aaronovitch (Gollancz)

The latest in Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series finds Abigail Kamara, her new friend, Simon, and a posse of talking foxes venture into the wilds to solve the mystery behind a group of missing teenagers who returned home unharmed but vague about their escapades.

Simple Passion
Annie Ernaux (Fitzcarraldo)

Fitzcarraldo continue to bring esteemed French memoirist Ernaux’s work to an anglophone audience. Simple Passion records her two-year relationship with a married foreigner, and the exquisite pain of passion.

Sophie White (Tramp Press)

The Sunday Independent columnist and author of Filter This and Unfiltered turns to memoir with this “Nora Ephron meets Bram Stoker” reflection on womanhood in the 21st century.


Author Sophie White. Photo by Mark Condren

Author Sophie White. Photo by Mark Condren

Author Sophie White. Photo by Mark Condren

Redder Days
Sue Rainsford (Doubleday)

An abandoned commune. Twins Anna and Adam prep for the end of the world. Koan, the commune’s former leader is their only companion, and a malevolent influence on them. But when one of the previous inhabitants returns, Anna and Adam are forced to question everything.

The Ministry of Bodies: A Year of Life and Death in a Modern Hospital
Seamus O’Mahony (Apollo)

Newly retired from his post as a gastroenterologist at Cork University Hospital, “poet-physician” Dr Seamus O’Mahony has written a biography of the institution of the hospital.

Double Blind
Edward St Aubyn (John Murray)

From the author of the much-lauded Patrick Melrose novels, Double Blind follows three close friends through a year of transformation, traversing themes including ecology, psychoanalysis and genetics, as well as love, fear and courage.

Bright Burning Things
Lisa Harding (Bloomsbury)

Alcohol addiction, single motherhood, postnatal depression and recovery are explored through the story of a former actress in this second novel from the author of Harvesting.

How Beautiful We Were
Imbolo Mbue (Canongate)

Set in a fictional African village, this second novel from the author of Behold the Dreamers depicts a people living in fear as an American oil company wreaks havoc on the environment.

The Rose Code
Kate Quinn (Harper Collins)

The author of The Alice Network examines the world of the Enigma codebreakers through the eyes of three very different women.

The Runaway Girls
Jacqueline Wilson (Doubleday)

The latest from the beloved children’s author is set in Victorian England as the Great Exhibition is about to open. Runaway Lucy Locket meets street performer Kitty Fisher and the two find themselves under threat from thieves and, worse, the workhouse.

Reclaiming the European Street: Speeches on Europe and the European Union 2016-20
Michael D Higgins (Lilliput)

From the 1916 Centenary celebration to the Brexit decision of June 2016, this collection of speeches from the president illuminates his standpoint on a range of important issues.

Hot Stew
Fiona Mozley (John Murray)

The second novel from the Booker-shortlisted author of Elmet weaves the stories of an interlinked group of individuals living and working in modern-day Soho.

The Committed
Viet Thanh Nguyen (Corsair)

The follow up to Nguyen’s much lauded The Sympathizer sees the sympathizer arrive in Paris as a refugee and try to escape his past by turning to “capitalism in its purest form”, drug-dealing.


The Florentines
Paul Strathern (Atlantic)

A 400-year history of the people and the city that made the renaissance, from the birth of Dante to the death of Galileo.

White City
Kevin Power (Scribner)

The only son of a rich south Dublin banker is “abruptly cut off” from his privileged lifestyle when his father is arrested. A period of drugs and dead-end jobs ensues, before he meets an old school friend who wants to cut him in on a shady property deal in the Balkans. A quick fix, perhaps, but something is amiss.

Nora: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce
Nuala O’Connor (New Island)

A fictionalised account of the love story between writer James Joyce and his wife and muse, Nora Barnacle, as told from the perspective of the formidable woman.

My Rock ’n’ Roll Friend
Tracey Thorn (Canongate)

The former Everything But The Girl singer’s fourth book reflects on her friendship with drummer Lindy Morrison (of The Go-Betweens) and explores women in music, representation and more.

The Hard Crowd
Rachel Kushner (Jonathan Cape)

After miraculously surviving an 80mph crash at the Cabo 1000, a notorious and deadly motorbike race, Kushner decided to leave her controlling boyfriend and make a new, freer life for herself. This first collection of essays from the Booker-shortlisted author is billed “a white-knuckle ride through life”.

The End of the World is a Cul de Sac
Louise Kennedy (Bloomsbury)

Abandoned by her partner, a woman sits alone in her new house in a ghost estate. A man raises his daughter in rural seclusion, at what might as well be the end of the world. Lucy Kennedy’s short stories are marked by entrapment and shot through with Irish folklore, politics and the natural world.

Marco Missiroli (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

A number one bestseller in Italy, this novel explores monogamy and self-actualisation through a couple who are in love but also harbour secret desires for other people.

The Second Life of Tiger Woods
Michael Bamberger (Harper Non-Fiction)

Not only a “saga of an exceptional man”, but a “celebration of second chances”, this book starts with Woods’ arrest for driving under the influence after a bout of “personal and professional hell” and uses a wide range of sources to bring new insights into his life.


Sports star: Michael Bamberger’s biography on Tiger Woods is a ‘celebration of second chances’

Sports star: Michael Bamberger’s biography on Tiger Woods is a ‘celebration of second chances’

Sports star: Michael Bamberger’s biography on Tiger Woods is a ‘celebration of second chances’

Boy 11963
John Cameron (Hachette)

At only five months old, John Cameron was abandoned in a Dublin orphanage. By age three, he had been fostered out as a child labourer. Aged eight, he was incarcerated in Artane Industrial School, the brutal child prison. Now in his mid-eighties, Cameron tells his story of survival and endurance.

Niall Bourke (Tramp)

The debut novel from a former New Irish Writing shortlistee is a speculative fiction tale about a man, his mother and his girlfriend who have spent their entire lives in an endless procession.

Zadie Smith and Nick Laird (Puffin)

Our favourite literary couple collaborate on this picture book about a guinea pig who wears a judo suit, an outfit not everyone understands or approves of.

JR Thorp (Canongate)

This historical novel takes the story of Shakespeare’s King Lear and gives voice to the woman previously exiled to the background, Lear’s wife. Beginning after King Lear has died, and his three daughters have been broken in battle, the book imagines this woman’s grief and rage.

Louise Nealon (Manilla Press)

When 18-year-old Debbie White transitions from life on a dairy farm to life as a student at Trinity College Dublin, everything starts to fray at the edges. A debut novel about dealing with darkness and the love that exists in the oddest of families.

First Person, Singular
Haruki Murakami (Harvill Secker)

A new short story collection from the beloved Japanese author blurs the line between fiction and memoir.

Before My Actual Heart Breaks
Tish Delaney (Hutchinson)

Delaney’s debut novel revolves around Mary Rattigan, a girl who, growing up at the height of the Troubles, wants to break free and fly. But things don’t go as planned, and 25 years later she is alone and mourning a love she let go. Can she rebuild what she once had?

Listening Still
Anne Griffin ­(Sceptre)

In the second novel from the author of When All is Said, protagonist Jeanie can hear the last words of the dead. It’s a gift that has been passed down through generations of her family, who are undertakers. But when her parents announce their intentions to retire and leave the business to Jeanie, she begins to question whether she wants to stay in this small town, and whether her gift is really a gift at all.

Lean Fall Stand
Jon McGregor (4th Estate)

An Antarctic research expedition goes wrong, and the consequences for the families of the men involved are far-reaching in this novel about what heroism means, the courage that is sometimes involved in merely getting through the day and the human impulse to tell stories.

I Want to Know That I Will Be Okay
Deirdre Sullivan (Banshee)

Another debut short story collection, this time from Young Adult author and Irish Book Award winner Deirdre Sullivan. Aimed at fans of Kirsty Logan and Carmen Maria Machado, this book uses a blend of genres to delve into the trauma and power that reside in women’s bodies.

Midfield Dynamo
Adrian Duncan (Lilliput)

The first short story collection from Duncan, an award-winning author and former engineer and visual artist, portrays an eclectic cast —from young artists, to footballers and artisan engineers, against an equally diverse backdrop, from Dublin’s northside to Hamburg, Abu Dhabi and Accra.


Second Place
Rachel Cusk (Faber)

An examination of the possibility that art can both save and destroy us, Second Place turns on the story of a woman who invites a famed artist to visit the remote coastal region where she lives, hoping that his vision will provide a framework for her life and landscape.

Lucy Caldwell (Faber)

The second short-story collection from Rooney-prize winning Caldwell charts “the steps and missteps of young women trying to find their place in the world”.

Boys Don’t Cry
Fiona Scarlett (Faber)

Scarlett’s debut tells of two sons of a notorious Dublin gang leader, growing up in a block of flats called the Jax. It is a story of learning how to rise above and be more than what the world expects you to be.

The Beauty of Impossible Things
Rachel Donohue (Corvus)

The second novel from Donohue, following her beautifully crafted The Temple House Vanishing, follows 15-year-old Natasha, who lives in a crumbling house by the sea with her bohemian mother. When a teenager goes missing, Natasha is called upon to use her mysterious mythical powers to help, but her actions will have unforeseen consequences.

RO’CK of Ages
Ross O’Carroll-Kelly (Sandycove)

Not a new O’Carroll-Kelly, exactly, but a collection of columns published over the years from our favourite south Dublin jock.

Four Killings
Myles Dungan (Apollo)

A political murder, the hunger for land and the savagery it can unleash. This book tells the story of four violent deaths that occurred in broadcaster Myles Dungan’s family during the Irish Revolution.

Rónán Hession (Bluemoose Books)

Hession’s second novel, Panenka, is named after a technique used while taking a penalty kick and tells of a 50-year-old man trapped for many years by his own sadness and who begins to rebuild a life with his estranged daughter and her seven-year-old son.

Diving for Pearls
Jamie O’Connell (Corvus)

A young woman’s body is found floating in the Dubai Marina in this debut novel. Her death has far-reaching effects on the fates of six people: a young Irishman and his sister, with whom he has come to stay, a Russian sex worker, a Pakistani taxi driver, an Emirati man and an Ethiopian maid.

The Summer I Robbed a Bank
David O’Doherty (Puffin)

Aimed at middle-grade readers, this novel by comedian O’Doherty is about a boy on the cusp of starting secondary school after his parents have split up. To make matters worse, he has to spend his summer on a remote, rainy Irish island.


Comedian David O'Doherty

Comedian David O'Doherty

Comedian David O'Doherty

The Rules of Revelation
Lisa McInerney (John Murray)

The third in the Cork City set features a debut album that might drive the whole of Ireland mad, and examines art and its relationship to class, as well as great nationalists, bad mothers and secrets galore.

The Perfect Lie
Jo Spain (Quercus)

When the police arrive at Erin Kennedy’s door one day, all seems normal. But behind her, her husband jumps from the window of their fourth-floor apartment to his death. Another fast-paced thriller from the bestselling author and screenwriter unravels all that lies beneath this husband’s hidden life.


Author Jo Spain

Author Jo Spain

Author Jo Spain

Mother Mother
Annie MacManus (Wildfire)

MacManus, better known as DJ Annie Mac, has written her first novel. Set in Belfast, it deals with a woman’s search for information about her mother, who died suddenly when she was a baby, her subsequent disappearance and her son’s search for her.

Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony and Cass R Sunstein (William Collins)

Kahneman, author of Thinking Fast and Slow, teams with strategist Olivier Sibony and legal consultant Cass Sunstein to co-author a book that looks at the thousands of decisions we make every day, and the impact of extraneous “noisy” factors on our decision-making.

The Year of the Locust
Terry Hayes ­(Bantam Press)

The follow-up to the bestselling I am Pilgrim is a suspense novel set aboard the most advanced and powerful warship ever built. A junior officer must test its effectiveness. But neither he nor the US government realise the extraordinary force of this experiment.


The Estate
Liza Costello (Hachette)

In this thriller set on a half-deserted luxury estate during the recession, we see a woman slowly unravel as she grapples with her past, present and future. Meanwhile, a strange attacker keeps showing up.

How Confidence Works
Ian Robertson (Bantam Press)

Robertson is professor emeritus in psychology at Trinity College Dublin. Here, he investigates how confidence plays out in our minds, our brains and our bodies and examines “the new science of self-belief, why some people learn it and others don’t”.

Sinéad O’Connor (Sandycove)

The woman needs no introduction, and we can expect nothing less than no-holds-barred in this memoir, which tells of the singer’s “fraught childhood, musical triumphs, struggles with illness and the enduring power of song”. There’s no doubt this will fly off the shelves this summer.

The Night Always Comes
Willy Vlautin (Faber)

Set over two days and two nights, this is the story of a woman named Lynn who has struggled for years to look after her brother and keep her family afloat. When she finally becomes a homeowner in a gentrifying Portland, things start looking up. But the plan is derailed, and Lynn must learn resilience in the face of opportunism, greed and ever-narrowing choices.

The Irish Assassins
Julie Kavanagh (Grove)

This true crime title charts the ambushing and stabbing of Lord Frederick Cavendish and Thomas Burke (chief secretary and undersecretary for Ireland) by a militant republican faction, The Invincibles, in the Phoenix Park in 1882.

The President’s Daughter
Bill Clinton and James Patterson (Century)

The second book together for the former US president and the renowned thriller writer takes a 16-year-old girl as its protagonist, and tracks her life’s changes as her mother, one of the most high-profile senators in the country, runs for president.

Still Life
Sarah Winman (4th Estate)

From the author of the gorgeous novels Tin Man and When God Was a Rabbit comes a novel set in a Tuscan villa in 1944. As the Allied troops advance and bombs fall, two strangers share an extraordinary evening together.

This Eden
Ed O’Loughlin (Riverrun)

The fourth novel from the Booker-shortlisted Irish-Canadian author is a cyber-noir, about a man headhunted by a sinister tech mogul following his girlfriend’s death. There, an enigmatic gamer tricks him into joining his quest to save the world from the deadliest weapon ever made.

Holding Her Breath
Eimear Ryan ­(Sandycove)

In this debut novel by writer and editor Ryan, a competitive swimmer named Beth wishes to build a fresh identity for herself when she starts university. She finds herself among people who adore the poetry of her grandfather and embarks on a quest to discover more about him. A story about ambition and grief and a young woman realising her powers.

The Moon Over Kilmore Quay
Carmel Harrington (Harper)

Told over four decades, between New York and Kilmore Quay, this is the story of two women, enduring friendships, family secrets and home, from the author of A Thousand Roads Home and My Pear-Shaped Life.

Mel O’Doherty (Bluemoose)

The debut novel from Sunday Times Short Story Award shortlistee O’Doherty has a difficult topic at its core: the stories of “Ireland’s fallen women”. It revolves around the story of a mother whose child was left to die at Bessborough House mother and baby home and the impact her story has on her family in later years. Dark but not bleak — this is also a tale of coping and resilience.

Aldrin Addis and the Cheese Nightmares
Paul Howard ­(Penguin)

Howard’s first solo children’s book is about a cheesemonger’s son with an extraordinary superpower: when he eats cheese before bed, he can enter other people’s dreams. For middle-grade readers, this follows on from the success of Gordon’s Game, co-authored by Howard and Gordon D’Arcy, and is sure to be laced with Howard’s signature humour.

Debutants to look out for in 2021

 Megan Nolan

Born in 1990, Nolan spent her twenties honing her craft as a freelance writer and has appeared in The New York Times, The White Review, The Guardian and The New Statesman, where she writes a column. If you haven’t encountered her work yet, get Googling. This woman is a wonder. Her style is defiant, prickly and exciting. She is an unapologetic champion of the personal essay. Her novel was acquired in 2019 by Jonathan Cape and those of us who were lucky enough to receive an early copy swallowed it whole. Acts of Desperation will get under your skin and live there for a long time.


John Patrick McHugh

Flip to the acknowledgements section of Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends and you’ll find effusive thanks to one John Patrick McHugh, “whose excellent feedback contributed so substantially to the book’s development”. From learning the ropes behind the scenes as an editor, to appearing in Granta, Winter Papers and The Stinging Fly, this is an author who knows what he is doing on the page, and whose writing is best described by the title of his debut story collection: Pure Gold.


John Patrick McHugh

John Patrick McHugh

John Patrick McHugh


Louise Nealon

Kildare woman Nealon’s story What Feminism Is won the Seán Ó Faoláin prize in 2017 and soon after went viral, with comparisons to Kristen Roupenian’s Cat Person. Nealon was then picked up by agent-extraordinaire Marianne Gunn-O’Connor. In summer 2020, when there was much reason for moping, the 28-year-old was popping the champagne. Her debut, Snowflake, along with a follow-up, were bought by Bonnier in a six-figure deal. If that wasn’t enough of a whirlwind, television rights to Snowflake have since been snapped up by the makers of Normal People, Element Pictures. The young author seems a lovely and modest person to boot. What gives?


Kerri ní Dochartaigh

The nature writer and essayist won the Mark Avery Wildlife and Politics Prize in 2016. Born in Derry at the height of the Troubles to a mixed-religion teenage couple, and brought up in a council estate, Ní Dochartaigh has a unique approach to a life marked by poverty and struggle, not to mention the threat of dissident military groups. This outlook is the beating heart of her memoir Thin Places. Her natural flair for metaphor and a deceptive simplicity of expression are key to her style.


Roisin Kiberd

Kiberd found a niche for herself writing about modern tech before it became all-pervasive. She has written a column about internet subcultures for Vice, and has bylines in The Stinging Fly, The Guardian, the Irish Independent, The Dublin Review and elsewhere. Fans of her writing include Mark O’Connell, who reads one of her essays on The Stinging Fly podcast. Indeed, her style might be compared to O’Connell’s in the way it unpacks complex ideas with smooth ease. Her book The Disconnect, like much of her writing, begins with tech and then reaches out to encompass much more.


Roisin Kiberd

Roisin Kiberd

Roisin Kiberd


Jamie O’Connell

 O’Connell lives in Dublin and has worked in publishing for both Gill Books and Penguin Random House. He also hosts a podcast, Good Luck with the Book, with books sales representative Sarah Cassidy. He is the founder of Blackwater Writing, an online independent editing and mentoring service. His short stories have achieved multiple shortlistings, including a ‘highly commended’ in the Costa Short Story Award 2018. His debut novel deals with a setting many Irish have become familiar with in recent years, though not often written about: expat life in the United Arab Emirates.  

Returning favourites in the year ahead

Danielle McLaughlin

McLaughlin is a bit of an overlap between debutant and returning favourite. The Art of Falling will be her first novel, but following the success of her debut short story collection, Dinosaurs on Other Planets, she feels like a stalwart of Irish literature. She took up writing aged 40, when illness forced her to stop practising as a solicitor. In 2019, she won two of the world’s most lucrative literary awards, the Windham Campbell Prize, worth €150,000, and the Sunday Times Short Story Award, worth €33,500, the world’s richest prize for a single story. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Stinging Fly and elsewhere. For someone with such a sparkling CV, her style is quite understated, with the shine of a newly cleaned window.


Kazuo Ishiguro

Born in Nagasaki in 1954, and raised in Guilford, south-east England, where he moved at the age of five, the four-time Booker nominee is probably best known for his 1989 Booker winner The Remains of the Day. It’s been six years since his last novel, The Buried Giant, which received mixed reviews. His latest, Klara and the Sun, contains themes similar to those of his inimitable Never Let Me Go, with its uncannily alternate yet real universe and unique point of view of an artificially intelligent being.


Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro


Kevin Power

Power’s 2008 debut novel Bad Day in Blackrock was loosely based on the death of Brian Murphy in Dublin in 2000, and was subsequently made into the film, What Richard Did, directed by Lenny Abrahamson. He hasn’t published a novel since that gleaming debut, though he has worked as a critic for this paper and others, as well as completing a PhD in American literature. He teaches on the MPhil in creative writing at Trinity College Dublin and his new novel looks to be as biting as his debut, with similar themes of class entitlement in south Dublin.


Lisa McInerney

McInerney’s first two books in the Cork City set, The Glorious Heresies and The Blood Miracles, might have a distinctively “Cork” feel both in setting and voice, but go to a bookshop in France, Italy, Spain and you are likely see to her work holding its own among the best international titles. The Galway writer has won the Women’s Prize and the Desmond Elliott Prize along with the Ireland Francophonie Ambassador’s Literary Award and the Premio Edoardo Kihlgren for European literature. She has been shortlisted for the Premio Strega Europeo, and translated widely. Readers of all genres warm to her original style and we are all salivating for the final in the triptych, The Rules of Revelation.


Terry Hayes

Born in 1951, Hayes has worked as an investigative reporter and columnist, and also spent much time as a screenwriter on films such as Dead Calm, featuring Nicole Kidman. His debut novel I Am Pilgrim was published in 2013 and has remained a favourite among thriller fans. Movie rights were sold to MGM, with a view to Hayes adapting the screenplay, though no such film has appeared yet. As for the follow-up to the book, we’ve been holding our breath since 2016, when The Year of the Locust was originally pegged for release, and we should finally get our hands on it in May.


Keith Ridgway

Ridgway is an author celebrated by readers, critics and especially other writers for his clever, bold and deceptively simple style. It’s been almost 10 years since his last book, Hawthorn and Child, having published five others before that. No stranger to the ups and downs of the writing life, he intimated he had turned his back on fiction completely, and fans were thrilled last year when he announced out of the blue that he had produced a novel, aptly titled A Shock, which is due for release in July.

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