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Top prize for Irish novel loved by Obama

A novel by an Irish writer that has US President Barack Obama among its fans has scooped the top award at the Listowel Writers Week Festival.

'Netherland' by Joseph O'Neill, which took the main prize of €15,000, is set in New York. The book's central theme revolves around cricket, marriage, immigrant communities and living in a post-9/11 world.

In a recent interview, Mr Obama revealed that he has been spending his evenings reading it.

O'Neill, who was presented with the prize at the opening of the festival in Listowel last night by the actor Gabriel Byrne, has won huge praise for the novel which was hailed in America as the book which most successfully caught the mood after 9/11.

The New York Times said 'Netherland' was "the wittiest, angriest, most exacting and most desolate work of fiction we've yet had about life in New York and London after the World Trade Centre fell. On a micro level, it's about a couple and their young son living in Lower Manhattan when the planes hit . . . On a macro level, it's about nearly everything."

O'Neill, who was born in Ireland to a Turkish mother and an Irish father, was raised in the Netherlands and has lived in New York for the past 10 years.

The other books on the shortlist for the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award 2009 were: 'The Secret Scripture' by Sebastian Barry, 'Molly Fox's Birthday' by Deirdre Madden, 'Disguise' by Hugo Hamilton and 'John the Revelator' by Peter Murphy.

Last night's opening was attended by numerous top writers, including Colm Toibín, Giles Foden, David Park and Peter Murphy. The festival runs until Sunday; a full programme is available on www.writersweek.ie

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