The Fine Print: What Are Irish Authors Reading This Summer?

FOUR IRISH WRITERS, all with newly published books, plot their SUMMER READING

A memorable summer romance and a friend dying are the central themes of Emily Hourican’s thought-provoking book, The Blamed.

“I don’t make hard and fast rules about what to read on holidays – sometimes I grab whatever looks good in the airport bookshop. I always judge books by their covers, and veer towards bold, strong images rather than the more elusive wispy type; that’s how I first came across Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies. Other times, I descend on my mother or sister and ask for hand-outs, and come away with the kind of brilliantly curated selection I would never put together myself. Margery Allingham’s superb Hide My Eyes (which I recommend to anyone who loves a really good crime novel) came to me like this, in a bundle that included John Williams’ Stoner (how had I never read it?) and Keeping An Eye Open by Julian Barnes.

If I plan beforehand, I try, where possible, to pick something that is location-appropriate. It is astonishing how much a book is enhanced by being in the right place while reading it. It all comes together in a kind of amazing multi-sensory experience. I discovered that by accident, years ago, when I found myself reading Umberto Eco’s The Name of The Rose while in Tuscany, surrounded by the kinds of medieval towns and monasteries he writes about, and which have changed so little, physically anyway, in the intervening years. The year after that, again by chance, I read Catch-22 – a book I had picked up before and never managed to get through – in the south of Italy, and found that I was instantly drawn in, because it lived in a way that it hadn’t before. This year, I am planning to read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, a memoir of his years in Paris in the 1920s – preferably in Paris, but I haven’t organised that yet. I adore good thrillers, so also have Liz Nugent’s Skin Deep in my sights, and Andrea Mara’s One Click. Viv Albertine’s second memoir, To Throw Away Unopened, because I enjoyed the first so much, and The War of the Encyclopaedists, a clever, collaborative novel written by Christopher Robinson and Gavin Kovite. And, for sheer indulgence, a friend is lending me American Wife, by Curtis Sittenfeld, which I never read, in preparation for moving on to her latest, You Think It, I’ll Say It. Kindle is brilliant for planes, but nothing will ever beat a physical book for me. I am perfectly happy to pack fewer clothes and shoes in order to fit in more books.

The Blamed, Emily Hourican, Hachette Ireland, €13.99.

A literary story full of danger and deception spanning two eras (1918 and 2018) makes Henrietta McKervey‘s Violet Hill a pageturner.

“I pack print. I’ve tried audio books but – in the same way a film version of a book can be disappointing simply because your own mental image of a text can become so fixed – if the voice doesn’t feel like it matches, I won’t persevere. I lasted less than an hour with Philip Kerr’s The Other Side of Silence. Lorrie Moore narrates her own short story collection Bark, so I’m going to give it a go. Experience has taught me that balance is the key to holiday reading. I’ve made the mistake of thinking the pool is the perfect place to catch up on a classic, only to spend a day squinting and sweating under the weight of 400 pages, while the cover artwork offsets onto my knees. I got the mix right last summer: Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses, Danzy Senna’s brilliant New People, which seemed to go under the radar here. I have high hopes for this year and suitcase definites are: See What Can Be Done by Lorrie Moore whose work is clever, caustic, elegant and sharp, and Stronger than Skin by Stephen May. For the last few years we’ve gone on holidays with friends and decided in advance that we’d each bring one extra book we thought the others might like to try. My contribution last year was Andrew O’Hagan’s Secret Life: Three True Stories of the Digital Age, and it was a big hit.”

Violet Hill, Henrietta McKervey, Hachette €13.99.

The consequences of gossip, hearsay and inaction make Milkman by Anna Burns a powerful, punchy and unforgettable read.

Anything’s fair game for holidays, though usually it’s fiction. This year I fancy it’ll be something by Olga Tokarczuk, a high-profile Polish writer of whom I’ve just heard. She’s been called a traitor and “a crazy old woman doing weird things” by outraged right-wingers in her country. Sounds promising. Also, she’s in her fifties so what age are they – four? I’ll also take The Plot Against America by Philip Roth. This is an imagined “what if” scenario, published in 2004, in which the famous aviator and anti-semite Charles Lindbergh becomes US president and proceeds to manipulate his public’s fears (couldn’t imagine it happening, could you?). I might also take a re-read of The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin. This book seems to outrage many Holmes devotees but I think it’s a wonderful exploration of friendship. Dear, transparent, good-hearted, innocent Watson. What is he going to do? That’s all I’ll say, except the point is not what you think is the point, so get over it, you Sherlock Holmes fans and stop sulking. When I return from hols I’ll peruse The History of Underclothes by C Willett Cunnington and Phillis Cunnington, which has been described both as “unexpectedly solemn” and “entertaining and humorous”. I shall discover for myself.

Milkman, Anna Burns, Faber, €17.95.

After discovering she’s been living a lie, Juno Ryan flees to a villa in Spain to recover in The Hideaway by Sheila O’Flanagan.

“Summer is the time when I allow myself plenty of guilt-free hours to indulge in other people’s writing. This year, as always, most of my baggage allowance has been taken up by books, with a few Kindle downloads for journeys. As a light-hearted start, I’m really looking forward to chilling out with Sophie Kinsella’s Surprise Me. There’s never been one of Sophie’s books that hasn’t reduced me to tears of laughter at some point and for pure escapism they’re hard to beat. I’m a big fan of thrillers and can thoroughly recommend JP Delaney’s The Girl Before which I read last year – his next book, Believe Me, is out soon and is even more gripping. Given the times we’re currently in, it’s interesting to head back to the Cold War era in fiction, and Joseph Kanon’s Defection is the story of two brothers, one of whom defected to the Soviet Union. It’s chillingly atmospheric and compelling, as is Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews, a more up-to-date novel about covert operations in Russia. The film didn’t get great reviews but the book is a page-turner. Red Clocks by Leni Zumas is set in small-town America in a time where abortion is outlawed and a woman trying to end her pregnancy is jailed. The sadness of this book is that it’s straddling the line between fact and fiction as far as so many women are concerned. Possibly also straddling that line is James Comey’s tell-all of his White House days, A Higher Loyalty, which I’ve downloaded. I also hope to catch up with The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore.”

The Hideaway, Sheila O’Flanagan, Review, €14.99.

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