Ten of the Best Irish Novels to Give This Christmas


1 – Girl by Edna O’Brien, (Faber)

Violence, abduction, trauma, and forgiveness are at the heart of O’Brien’s latest novel. When her protagonist is captured, kidnapped and married into Boko Haram, she witnesses and suffers the horrors of a brutal community of men. Barely more than a girl herself, she must learn to navigate her world as a mother. Possibly the most important work of her career, Edna O’Brien once more demonstrates why she’s one of Ireland’s literary masters.

2 – The Wych Elm by Tana French, (Penguin)

It’s been a great year for Ireland’s première crime novelist, with the unveiling of the eagerly-awaited Dublin Murders series with RTÉ/BBC, an adaptation of her popular Dublin Murder Squad books. She’s entered into a new chapter with The Wych Elm, which is an excellent character study of what happens when a young privileged man’s luck runs out. A slow-burning mystery, which won the affections of Stephen King, you will be gripped by protagonist Toby’s cloudy plight right until the stormy end.

3 – Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry, (Canongate)

Barry’s Man Booker Prize longlisted novel has swept bestseller charts across the board. His comic timing is second-to-none, and this work delivers in spades. The story brings us to Maurice Hearne and Charlie Redmond, a pair of ageing drug smugglers who wait in the waiting area of the dodgy Spanish port of Algeciras and excavate their crazy life together. Night Boat to Tangier has been aptly described as In Bruges meets Waiting For Godot.

4 – When All Is Said by Anne Griffin, (Sceptre)

Sometimes stories with the simplest premise are the most powerful, and that’s precisely what happens when Maurice Hannigan walks into the bar of his local hotel and sits down for a drink. Over the course of the evening he makes five toasts to the five people that have mattered most to him in his 84 years. At times heart-shatteringly painful and belly-achingly funny a few breaths later, Griffin has made her mark with this original story about love, family, regret and legacy.

5 – Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor, (Harvill Secker)

O’Connor opens up the drama of 19th-century London theatre and gifts us three unforgettable people as they navigate their complicated relationship: Henry Irving is the fiery leading man, Ellen Terry is the much desired leading lady, and Bram Stoker is the stage manager who became the author of Dracula. Shadowplay is an excellent mix of unconventional romance, heartbreak and humour, and the events that led to supernatural fiction’s greatest creation.

6 – The River Capture by Mary Costello, (Canongate)

Five years after Costello’s award-winning Academy Street, comes a new work about love, loyalty and nature. When Luke O’Brien leaves Dublin for his family’s big country house and library, all is quiet: until a woman shows up on his doorstep, throwing him and his family into turmoil. A tribute to Joyce, as O’Brien spirals into madness, we learn the redemptive powers of art. Lauded far and wide by literary fiction’s big names, The River Capture is one of this year’s landmark books.

8 –  Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff, (Tinder Press)

A fresh take on the zombie novel, this is Tramp Press co-founder Davis-Goff’s first offering as an author. She introduces us Orpen, a young girl who was raised in a post-apocalyptic world by her mother Muireann and her mother’s partner, Maeve on an island. They taught her to fight and forage – to survive. Now she must go out in search of a cure, while carrying an injured Maeve in a wheelbarrow as blood-thirsty skrake walk the earth. This nail-biting read is now optioned for a screen adaptation.

8 – The Hiding Game by Louise Phillips, (Hachette)

When Bostonian defence lawyer Heather returns to her hometown to prove a young girl’s innocence, the case brings her own haunted past bubbling back to the surface. In her first stand-alone novel, Phillips has created a compelling study of trauma, memory-loss and the measures people take to keep secrets under lock and key. Drawing from her own family history and the Louise Woodward case, The Hiding Game is one of the great crime books of 2019.

9The Jewel by Neil Hegarty, (Head of Zeus)

A stellar second offering from the critically-acclaimed writer who from the offset, has garnered an impeccable reputation, thanks to his use of beautifully crafted lyricism, empathy and a fine wit. The nucleus of the story is a painting on a piece of parchment by Emily Sandborne, an artist who died by suicide, and the three people connected by it who all lead inauthentic lives. Already a future classic, The Jewel has received rave reviews since its recent unveiling.

10 – Night Swimming by Doreen Finn, (Mercier Press)

If ever there was a novel that encapsulates a season, it’s this one. A perfect snapshot of childhood during the summer of 1976 in Dublin, you can actually feel the sun splitting the stones. The story follows Gemma, a young artist, her nine-year daughter Megan, and Gemma’s mother, Sarah. When they rent their downstairs flat to a family of exotic Americans, their world quickly turns askew. Night Swimming is a visceral and evocative read, no matter the weather.


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