One of the best things about reading is that it allows readers to travel the world without ever leaving the comfort of their favorite armchair. You can travel to distant lands, engage with writers from different places with a wide range of experiences, and learn a lot. Jess Kidd’s novel Himself transports readers to Ireland in the 1970s, and makes it a trip to remember. In case that’s not enough Ireland for you, Jess has shared books from her six favorite Irish writers that Americans should be reading.
This is a stunning tale told from the perspective of 5-year-old Jack who has grown up in an 11-foot-square room with his mother (who was kidnapped as a teenager and has been held against her will ever since). Jack’s mother battles to raise her child in a space where each object has a name and routine holds at bay the crushing horror of their situation. What emerges is something profound: an intimate, believable universe and an intense depiction of maternal love and tenderness.
A work of phenomenal creative freedom, At Swim-Two-Birds is alive with the irruption of the odd into the baseline shabby reality of a student narrator who is writing a book about a man writing a book. Fictional worlds appear and collide, opening doors to figures from Irish folklore and myth—Finn Mac Cool, Mad King Sweeney, pooka—along with paperback Wild West cowboys. Flann O’Brien weaves these clashing elements to create chaos, satire, and above all, laugh-out-loud humor. Everything goes: lyricism, legend, pub tales, parody and pastiche—apart from dyed-in-the wool certainties. At Swim-Two-Birds is a liberating read.
The intricacies and rifts of the Madigan family are explored in this great novel, which centers on a Christmas reunion. All the big themes are there: familial conflict, the empty greed of the Celtic tiger, the Irish diaspora experience, what it really means to return when you’ve been flung to the corners of the earth. Likened to a series of short stories, the writing has that ability of short fiction to drop you into a world that feels searingly immediate and utterly real.
This captivating first-person narrative follows Anthony, the product of rival Travelling clans with a long history of bloody conflict. Anthony is hiding out in in a crumbling Dublin tenement when he has an unwelcome visit from his Uncle Arthur, who is also attempting to lie low. Trawling the streets of contemporary Dublin, with the ebb and flow of an eclectic supporting cast, Anthony spins Traveller myths and stories in a voice that’s completely compelling.
This is a golden oldie: a mad experimental novel that blends fantasy and social commentary. James Stephens, a central figure in the Irish Literary Revival, created a realm of philosophers and leprechauns and mythical creatures. In this novel there is the otherworldly but there’s also the suggestion of a real world of hardship and need. Creatures in different stages of bewilderment and enlightenment abound. Nature is magical and animals and humankind are not quite created equal. Dogs “are a most intelligent race of people” whilst fish are “a dirty, sly, and unintelligent people.” In The Crock of Gold folklore crashes headlong into mystical insight. Descriptions of the machinations of nature in all its darkness and light are lyrical and vivid, “the sea leaps upon the shingle panting for joy, dancing, dancing, dancing for joy…”
Sara Baume’s heartbreaking debut novel is the story about two stray souls finding each other. Ray, a 57-year-old loner, has all but given up on the world when he comes across One Eye, a vicious little ratter. Told with great grace and compassion this lyrical, melancholy book follows the fortunes and misfortunes of these unusual companions as mishap forces man and dog to hit the road.