The View from Here: Good reads from Ireland
We’re staying with the Celtic nations for the choice of our next country in The View From Here series on literature from around the world. Our featured country is Ireland and who better to give us the insight on this country’s literature than the blogger who has co-hosted Reading Ireland month for the past few years: Cathy at 746books
Let’s meet Cathy
Just over two years ago, as I went to buy yet another book, I decided to do a count and see how many unread books I had to hand – on my shelves, my iPad and my Kindle. It came to 746 and I was so shocked! I was reading around 30 books a year and worked out that if I didn’t buy any more books, it would still take me about 25 years to read all the books I had in the house! So, I set myself the challenge to not buy any more books, read all 746 and blog about it along the way.
I’ve rediscovered my love of Irish literature in particular, so I also blog about the Irish literary scene and review new books by Irish authors.
Outside of blogging, I am a mother of 5 year old twins and work in an Arts Centre in Northern Ireland so I’m kept pretty busy!
Q. Who are your favourite authors from Ireland (north and south)?
This is a really hard question, because I love so many! My favourite novelists would be Bernard McLaverty, Brian Moore, Edna O’Brien, Colum McCann and Nuala NiChonchuir, but I also love playwrights like Conor McPherson and Martin McDonagh and poets like Paul Durcan and Sinead Morrissey.
Q. Why did you start the Reading Ireland Month?
I had spotted a few reading months relating to Germany and Japan and just thought, why not?! March seemed like the perfect month for it and I decided to team up with my old friend and fellow blogger Niall at The Fluff is Raging to broaden the scope of the month to include posts on movies, music, TV and travel as well as books. I see it as a real celebration of all Irish culture and I love spreading the word about all the great writers that have come from this tiny island! Last year we had over 100 posts and we are hoping for even more this year!
Q. Does literature from Ireland have a particular atmosphere or style, something that maybe makes it stand out as distinctively “Irish”?
This is an interesting question that I think about it a lot. What is it about a small island like Ireland that has produced 4 Nobel Prize winners and a host of world class writers, playwrights and poets? Alongside Greek and Latin, Ireland had one of the earliest ‘languages’ Ogham which dates back to the 4th century AD. There is a great oral tradition of storytelling and myth making that carries on throughout Irish history. In ancient Irish society, the poet was revered and was second only to the chieftain and I think we still carry that reverence today. Add to that a turbulent history of invasion, immigration, famine and war and you have a fertile ground for literature to flourish in.
For me, Irish writing is lyrical and poetic, with a real sense of vitality, always with an eye to the past and to the tradition from which it has come.
Q. What books are creating a buzz in Ireland at the moment?
There is a great range of young authors making a buzz in Ireland at the moment. Writers like Colin Barrett, Danielle McLaughlin, Belinda McKeon, Rob Doyle, Anakana Schofield, Lisa McInerney, Sara Baume and Eimear McBride are all being talked about on a national level. Sara Baume’s Spill Simmer Falter Wither was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and the Guardian First Novel Award and Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing won the 2014 Bailey’s Prize for Women.
The buzz isn’t only about writers though – there are lots of fantastic literary magazines from Ireland exploring new work, like Banshee and The Stinging Fly and Tramp Press is an exciting new publisher working to promote the voices of women in Ireland, old and new. A fabulous book to check out is Dubliners 100, published by Tramp Press where new and established writers from Ireland created a ‘cover version’ of their favourite stories from James Joyce’s Dubliners. It’s a great introduction to Irish writers you may not have heard of!
There is also a great surge in crime writing coming out of Ireland, Tana French is an obvious example of this, but writers like Eoin McNamee, Stuart Neville and Jane Casey are writing very interesting Celtic Noir!
Q. Who are the authors you would consider ‘must read’ for people who wanted to deepen their knowledge of Irish literature?
This is a hard question to answer as the breadth of work there is to choose from is vast. There are the classic writers like Swift, Wilde and Stoker and the modernists like Beckett, Joyce and Yeats. I have a list of 100 Irish Novels on my blog which is a great starting point for anyone interested in Irish Literature. It is in chronological order and spans from 1729 to 2014 and really highlights the diversity and quality of Irish Literature. There were so many books I wanted to include, that I could have made the list go up to 200!
Q. Most keen readers will know of James Joyce and Oscar Wilde. Are there any authors you think deserve more attention?
There are a lot of women writers who deserve attention and have been in the shadows for too many years. Writers like Maria Edgeworth, Elizabeth Bowen and Kate O’Brien can more than hold their own with the titans of Irish literature. There is a famous Irish Writers poster, which was very popular in Ireland and featured only male writers. Last year the Irish Times recreated the poster with only female writers and there is a real feeling that readers are starting to hear and to listen to these voices. I would recommend The Long Gaze Back which is an anthology of short stories by Irish women writers edited by Sinead Gleeson. It is a fascinating collection of work featuring writers like Maria Edgeworth, Maeve Brennan and Elizabeth Bowen alongside less well known writers like Norah Hoult.
Q. Talking of Joyce … he seems to divide readers. Where do you stand on the love him/hate him debate?
I feel like a wee bit of a fraud at this point, as I haven’t read Ulysses! I know, it’s embarrassing, but it is in the 746 so I will be reading it at some point. I have read Finnegan’s Wake and The Dead and would some down on the ‘love’ side, solely for the short story ‘The Dead’ which is a perfect short story and contains one of the most beautiful passages ever written:
‘A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, on the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.’
Hope Cathy’s guest post has given you a taste for Irish authors. If you’re tempted to explore further now is a good time to join Reading Ireland Month which runs until end of March. Find out more info on the sign up page on Cathy’s blog. Follow the Facebook page here or join in the discussion on Twitter using #readireland16.
20 thoughts on “The View from Here: Good reads from Ireland”
I think I remember Cathy saying she really likes Roddy Doyle, but don’t see him here!
Great overview of Irish literature. Cathy, your passion is palpable 🙂
If Cathy has read Finnegans Wake, she’ll probably survive Ulysses. Have read neither so please take this with a grain of salt.
Thank you for this interview. I adore Cathy’s blog, and I was glad to know more about it. The only book that I have read from the list is ‘Spill Simmer Falter Wither’, and I loved it. Such lyrical writing. I am not actively participating in the reading event this year. But, I am sure I will prepared to dive in next year. Thank you, Cathy! 🙂
I discovered lots of authors as a result of this too
Bookmarking Cathy’s blog. Loved the interview.
It’s a very rich blog – I don’t always get around to commenting but still enjoy reading it because she has such a wide variety of material that she reviews
Lovely post Cathy. I know much more about Irish literature than I do Welsh but nonetheless I still learnt rather a lot from your post! Particularly newer writers of whom I only knew a couple. I love Irish culture, though I’ve not kept up in recent years. When I went to Europe the first time – my husband had lived there for two years – I said that Ireland had to be in the places we visited. Not Wales, my ancestors’ origins, not Scotland, which was popular at the time, but England and Ireland (We only travelled in the south, the republic – the unrest was still on then. It was wonderful.)
I think you can be forgiven Ulysses if you’ve read Finnegan, btw. I’ve read Ulysses, Portrait and The Dubliners. Of these, the one I mist hanker to read again is The Dubliners, though I feel I should reread Ulysses!
and what was wrong with wales that you couldnt fit us in during that trip? We’re only across the water from them (just teasing you….)
Oh the guilt!
Reblogged this on 746 Books and commented:
I recently took part in The View From Here over at Booker Talk’s fantastic blog. She got me nattering about all things Irish and bookish!
Great interview – I really enjoyed it! And it had me wanting to read all the authors and books that were mentioned. Sigh.
The answer to the distinctly Irish literature question is excellent. It’s so hard to determine what makes each country’s literature unique.
I chickened out asking myself that question because I knew I couldnt answer it
Thank you, thank you. I saw the name Eoin McNamee, which I’d never heard of before, and her crime books sound excellent.
Guy, Resurrection Man is a bit of a crime classic here in Northern Ireland. Hope you get a chance to read it.
What about The Blue Trilogy?
I haven’t read it but it’s supposed to be great.
I don’t normally like books about real people, but in these cases, I think it’s different.
Completely agree with Cathy about “The Dead,” one of my favorite short stories, especially for that passage. I always associate that passage with the movie based on the short story, directed by Anjelica Huston and directed by her father, John Huston, in what would be the last movie he directed.
The movie is very beautiful Bryan. I do love Donal McCann.