I am not sure if it has changed—I suspect it must have by now—but in my high school English classes, we read mostly American authors. I was steeped in the works of writers like John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Theodore Dreiser and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Only in Honors French did we branch out to—guess what!—French authors: Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Victor Hugo. Perhaps it was due to the era: diversity and a sense of global inter-connectedness were not yet part of our lexicon.
The first Irish writer I ever fell in love with was Frank McCourt. His memoir, Angela’s Ashes, read like a novel with its terrible but beautiful setting, deft handling of the themes of religion and poetry, and carefully but lovingly drawn characters.
A Sampler Plate: Three Irish Authors
Here are three Irish authors I loved for different reasons:
For her rich, multi-faceted characters:
Normal People by Sally Rooney
Rooney’s novel follows two young people, Marianne and Connell—an unlikely pair, teenagers from different social classes— through years, as their complicated relationship morphs from friendship to love and back again. Short, punchy sentences, one-sentence paragraphs, dialogue without quotation marks. But the predicaments and feelings of young people—about love, about life, about the expectations of ‘grownup’—are universal.
The Sea by John Danville
Banville writes about grief, about growing up and growing old. Read him slowly to savor every polished phrase. But I loved this book most because of the setting: “The seagulls mewled and swooped, unnerved, it seemed, by the spectacle of that vast bowl of water bulging like a blister, lead-blue and malignantly agleam.”
For a glimpse back into Ireland’s history
The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue
Set in the horrific days of the influenzas pandemic of 1918 (the flu vaccine was not developed until 1938), this is a fictional account that follows one nurse, Julia Power, as she cares for pregnant women isolated in one room in a Dublin hospital because they have contracted the flu. The signs on trams and streetcars—COVER UP EACH COUGH OR SNEEZE, FOOLS AND TRAITORS SPREAD DISEASE—do little to stop the surge in deaths and the women she treats, scarred by poverty, have even a less chance of surviving. Donoghue’s writing is both plain-spoken and powerful and gave me much to chew on as the parallels between 1918 and 2020 became abundantly clear.
I am on an Irish ‘jag’ right now so fair warning, I may be sharing more with you in future posts.