Even without the lovely Jeremy Clarkson choosing a lazy cliché to upbraid his Irish producer or Australian prime minister Tony Abbott getting his country ready for ‘a Guinness…or maybe even three’, this last week was always going to be a trying one for anyone Irish attempting to steer clear of stereotypes.
In case you haven’t already tripped on an oversized leprechaun hat lying in the street, I should tell you it’s St Patrick’s Day today – a national holiday that, like the Irish themselves, has managed to go global and form its own diaspora of festivals around the world.
Shamrocks and green Guinness tend to make me feel a bit, well, green around the gills, so to cheer myself up I’m taking today to talk about an export that makes me proud to be Irish – our fantastic fiction writers, with nary a cliché between them. If I were to list them all, or even just my favourite authors, we’d be here until next March, so I’ve chosen a bunch that I love and that also happen to have new books coming your way in 2015.
This Booker-winner is ace on dysfunctional families (see The Gathering, which won her that Booker) and her latest, The Green Road, coming this May, is the best portrait of a narcissistic, martyred Irish mother I’ve yet to read (and there are plenty of, let us say, interesting Irish mothers in the canon for competition).
LINES TO LOVE: ‘There are so few people given us to love. I want to tell my daughter this, that each time you fall in love it is important, even at nineteen. Especially at nineteen. And if you can, at nineteen, count the people you love on one hand, you will not, at forty, have run out of fingers on the other. There are so few people given us to love and they all stick.’ (The Gathering)
READ: The Green Road (Jonathan Cape, £16.99, out 7 May)
2. PAUL MURRAY
A writer who stays under the radar by, unusually, avoiding social networks and the online self-branding palaver expected of young(-er, he’s hitting 40) writers today. That’s not to say he isn’t an expert voice on modern ways and ills. Skippy Dies covers adolescent longing and misbehaviour with aplomb and I have great hopes for his third book, due in the summer, which the press release says tackles the financial crisis in ‘a stirring examination of the deceptions carried out in the names of art, love and commerce’. My favourite novels are often a perfect mixture of funny and sad, and Murray is a master of both.
LINES TO LOVE: ‘Maybe instead of strings it’s stories things are made of, an infinite number of tiny vibrating stories; once upon a time they all were part of one big giant superstory, except it got broken up into a jillion different pieces, that’s why no story on its own makes any sense, and so what you have to do in a life is try and weave it back together, my story into your story, our stories into all the other people’s we know, until you’ve got something that to God or whoever might look like a letter or even a whole word…’ (Skippy Dies)
READ: The Mark and the Void (Hamish Hamilton, £12.99, out 30 July)
I fell head-over-heels for Banville as a teenager reading The Book of Evidence, a first-person novel about an apparently unrepentant murderer, based on a real Irish case. Not initially an attractive proposition, perhaps, but Banville does things with the English language that would make you weep. He’s made me weep; he’s also made me laugh. And he writes the sort of sentences you go back and forth over. His trademark character is an ageing male ruminating in an empty house (stick with it), and he’s especially good on our shaky sense of self and on memory and the games we play with it.
LINES TO LOVE: ‘It was not just the drink, though, that was making me happy, but the tenderness of things, the simple goodness of the world. This sunset, for instance, how lavishly it was laid on, the clouds, the light on the sea, that heartbreaking, blue-green distance, laid on, all of it, as if to console some lost suffering waybearer. I have never really got used to being on this earth. Sometimes I think our presence here is due to a cosmic blunder, that we were meant for another planet altogether, with other arrangements, and other laws, and other, grimmer skies. I try to imagine it, our true place, off on the far side of the galaxy, whirling and whirling. And the ones who were meant for here, are they out there, baffled and homesick, like us? No, they would have become extinct long ago. How could they survive, these gentle earthlings, in a world that was meant to contain us?’ (The Book of Evidence)
READ: The Book of Evidence and The Sea (Everyman Library, £12.99, out now). This is a new collection of his two Booker-prize shortlisted and winning novels, respectively, with a new introduction by psychoanalyst Adam Phillips. And look out for The Blue Guitar (Penguin), due September 2015.
We need to shout a bit more about this wonderful writer, who definitely deserves more love and appreciation. Check out The Cold Eye of Heaven, her IMPAC-nominated novel about a lonely man’s life, lived backwards, or get your hands on her newest, The Lives of Women, set in suburban 1970s Dublin, fresh out of the box next month. (Read our review in the May issue of Psychologies magazine.)
LINES TO LOVE: ‘In the coming days, she will search back through the moments. She will look through her journal and try to find them, pressed between the pages like forgotten tokens. She will hold each one up to the light and examine it. She will pull out each moment; she will lay them all out end to end then add them all up. She will say: I should have known. I should have known. I should have seen it.’ (The Lives of Women)
READ: The Lives of Women (Atlantic, £12.99, out 2 April)
5. SAMUEL BECKETT
OK, so he’s been gone a quarter of a century and so there isn’t anything new coming your way but, as many people know Beckett only for his plays or sometimes his poetry, it’s worth mentioning that the man’s exceptional talents extended to prose fiction too. Expect spare, dark humour about the human condition, as found in Godot, with lots of playful messing about with form.
LINES TO LOVE: ‘Words and images run riot in my head, pursuing, flying, clashing, merging, endlessly. But beyond this tumult there is a great calm, and a great indifference, never really to be troubled by anything again.’ (Malone Dies)
READ: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnameable (Everyman's Library, £12.99, out now) – this is a fine new collection of his 1940s prose trilogy.
AND DON’T MISS: a short story collection from Donal Ryan (author of Guardian First Book Award-winning The Spinning Heart) in September, a new one from young buck Kevin Barry in November, and a ghoulishly gorgeous recent edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Irish publisher, Roads.
Photograph: Gianni Diliberto/fstop/Corbis