The best Irish books by Irish authors I like to rave about

The Books I Picked & Why


By Anna Burns

Book cover of Milkman

Why this book?

Anna Burns won the booker for this novel and rightly so. Burn plays with the norms of novel writing both in the unique voice she uses and in not giving any of her characters' names. It takes a page or two to get there but when you do it is a treat. We meet Middle Sister who is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her Maybe-Boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with Milkman. Set in Belfast, this is a fabulous book, exploring teenage inhibition in the backdrop of troubles. It is funny and sad and captures the quirks and cruelties of growing up in a divided community. 

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Nothing But Blue Sky

By Kathleen MacMahon

Book cover of Nothing But Blue Sky

Why this book?

David has lost his wife far too early. A man in mourning, he relives their twenty years together and sees that the ground beneath them had shifted and he had simply not noticed, or was it more that he had chosen not to. The writing here is spectacular and the theme of love and loss so very moving. Set between Ireland and Spain, McMahon captures the sublime and mundane nature of long-term love with exceptional skill. Another reason I like this book is that in my debut novel, my main character Maurice Hannigan, while very different from David, was also a widower, and naturally, the issue of loss figured heavily so I feel a bond to this book that is very special.

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Strange Flowers

By Donal Ryan

Book cover of Strange Flowers

Why this book?

I love Donal Ryan’s work and thankfully he is a prolific writer. Really, I could have chosen any of his books, but this one is his most recent and had me rereading sentence after sentence because his prose is so full of beauty. Paddy and Kit Gladney’s daughter disappears in 1973. They know nothing of where she has gone and if she is alive at all. Five years later she returns, with a son, changing the course of her family’s life forever. This a beautiful and devastating exploration of loss, alienation, and the redemptive power of love and affirms Ryan as one of the best storytellers Ireland has ever known. 

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Life Sentences

By Billy O'Callaghan

Book cover of Life Sentences

Why this book?

Set over three generations of the one family, this is the story of their fight for survival. What I love here is not just the prose, because there is no one finer than O’Callaghan, but also because it touches on the depopulation of Ireland’s small islands during the famine and the small island to which he refers has a very significant family connection for me. Partly based on O’Callaghan’s own family, Life Sentences tells an epic story of working-class life in Ireland from famine right through to modern-day. It is an unforgettable tale of love, abandonment, and reconciliation.

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The Pull of the Stars

By Emma Donoghue

Book cover of The Pull of the Stars

Why this book?

Dublin 1918, Nurse Julia Power works in an understaffed maternity hospital in the city centre at the time of the Spanish Flu. In the dark intensity of this ward, Julia battles the pandemic trying to save the lives of those women and babies under her care alongside a young volunteer helper, Bridie Sweeney. There is inevitable loss, with the worlds of those left behind irrevocably changed. In this tender book that features a cameo appearance of one of Ireland’s greatest heroes, Doctor Kathleen Lynn, Donoghue produces a story that is both tragic and uplifting in a period of social and political upheaval during Ireland’s struggle for freedom.

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