The topic for Week 2 of Reading Ireland Month, hosted by Cathy at 746 Books and Raging Fluff was ‘My Year in Irish Lit’. In my head I read a lot of books by Irish authors in 2021. But when I came to dig into my records, the reality was somewhat different. Turns out I’d read only three.
In her second novel. Elizabeth Bowen portrayed the dying embers of an Anglo-Irish way of life. It’s set in a large country house that’s belonged to the same family for generations. Life within the estate goes on as usual, with plenty of jolly picnics and tennis parties, but outside, life is changing as the movement for Irish independence gathers pace.
I could see what Bowen was trying to do but none of her characters held my attention so I didn’t feel very invested in how the political turmoil affected their way of life.
There was a subtlety about Bowen’s writing that I did enjoy so I’m hoping that one of her later novels, The Heat of the Day , will be more to my taste.
This debut novel became a word of mouth success a couple of years ago but I’d not heard of it until it was chosen for our book club. It’s essentially the tale of two men who are misfits in a modern world and how they break out of their limited lives and learn to be a part of the world. It was a refreshing change to find a novel with two characters who are …. well, just nice. But while there was much to enjoy in the novel, I found it lacked some tension — there is only so much niceness I can take it seems.
I debated whether to count this since it’s not a complete novel. It’s the novel Farrell was working on when he died in a freak accident. A close friend edited the draft of 19 chapters together with rough notes in which Farrell had documented his ideas about plot developments and key themes. What we get is 150 pages which lay out three key themes: the hypocrisy of the Raj; a clash over religious principles and tension between religion and science. Not enough to judge whether the book would have been a success if it had been finished.
Though I didn’t read much Irish literature, I did buy in 2021. The newcomers to my bookcase included:
The Magician by Colm Toibin is a fictional account of the complex life of Nobel Prize winner Thomas Mann.
Small Things Like These by Clare Keegan: I heard a fragment of this when it was adapted by BBC Radio and it was enough to persuade me to get the book. It’s set against a background of a real life scandal in Ireland when thousands of young girls were sent to work in church-run laundries as punishment for “promiscuity”.
The Fall of The Light by Niall Williams: charting one Irish family as they try to find a new life in the aftermath of the potato famine
The Absolutist by John Boyne depicts a relationship between two soldiers sent to fight in the trenches of World War 1. Only one returns carrying letters written by his friend who was shot as a conscientious objector.
By the time Reading Ireland 2023 rolls around I might even have read some of these….