Book Gift Guide: Irish Authors Part 1

Forgive me for going all out patriotic but well…with the quality of writing that was released by Irish authors this year, they really needed their own posts. You can find my first gift guide that focused on some amazing cookbooks here!

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I have read some of these books but the majority are going onto my wishlist and into the stockings of family and friends!

The Gospel According to Blindboy

The Gospel According to Blindboy is a collection of surreal parody and thought-provoking short stories. One half of the Rubberbandits, through various interviews and social media posts Blindboy has shown himself to be a critical thinker and a voice for the youth of Ireland, targeting mental health, the patriarchy and the hypocrisy of the status quo. Trust Ireland to need a young man with a plastic bag over his head to make a point! This book has garnered amazing reviews from some of the best authors Ireland has to offer, claiming it to be a wonderful yet twisted reflection of the Ireland of today. I’m definitely picking this up for my boyfriend, although I think it’s suitable for anyone who loves that macabre surrealism that Blindboy does so well.

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For fans of thrillers Cat Hogan has written There Was A Crooked Man is a wonderfully tense follow-up to her first novel They All Fall Down. It’s a wild ride into the mind of a psychopath running a vicious crime ring, who is hellbent on revenge, whatever the cost. Evocative writing brings you on a journey from the streets of Marrakesh to the winding alleys of Dublin, and keeps you reading until the very last page! My sister is going to love this duo of books, I think I’ll give to her on Christmas eve to keep her entertained until Santa comes!

The Woman at 72 Derry Lane

Reminiscent of Maeve Binchy this is a really heart-wrenching book examining relationships, friendships and how we can create jails for ourselves that are difficult to escape from without help. A seemingly crazy neighbour might be the friend that the narrator needs to help rescue her from her apparently wonderful life…The Woman at 72 Derry Lane is a wonderful tale that you won’t forget in a hurry. My partners mom is a huge Binchy fan so I’m looking forward to gifting her this!

The Heart's Invisible Furies

John Boyne is well-known for his heartfelt stories but this may be the most beautiful yet. An adopted man tries to figure out his place in the world; from Ireland in the 1940s to present day it we follow Cyril as he lives his extraordinarily ordinary life and all the trials and tribulations that come from not quite knowing where you fit in. Funny, sad and everything in between this novel is just sheer perfection. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is sure to find a way into the heart of whomever you gift this to this year.

Atlas of the Irish Revolution

This next one is a bit of a chunkster…weighing in at 5kg it’s a tome of epic proportions! The Atlas of the Irish Revolution is a non-fiction book chronicling Irish history in beautiful detail. It boasts of over 300 detailed maps and over 120 scholars have submitted work from a range of disciplines to give a well-rounded look at the formation of the Irish republic, from home rule in 1912 to the end of the civil war in 1923. This is a genuine showstopper of a gift, and the price is really reasonable considering the breath, scope and ample size of this book!

Oh My God What a Complete Aisling The Novel

If you’re after something quintessentially Irish then Oh My God What a Complete Aisling is the very thing. The tale of a culchie girl making her way through the big shmoke and all that being a sensible country girl in the city entails. Covering the essential long earrings and jersey combo (that can take you from work to a night out and inevitably coppers), and the worries about Daddy and the farm at home, it delves into the responses  you get when you dare to change your life and challenge everyones expectations. There are some really poignant scenes in this book that really hits home, you’ll be a mess of tears (deffo stock up on the tissues), there’s more where you’ll be laughing yourself silly and in the end you’ll find the bit of Aisling that’s inside us all. Getting this for several friends this Crimbo and I know they won’t be disappointed!

A Line Made By WalkingSara Baume is one of my favourite authors and her second book A Line Made By Walking totally lives up to the standard she set with Spill Simmer Falter Wither. Exploring the fragility of our existence and our grip on nature, art and the meaning of our lives through an unexpected medium: the photography of dead animals. Seeking internal peace means having to come face to face with our inner struggles and demons and in this story Frankie is no exception. If you have ever had feelings of depression, anxiety and just generally being overwhelmed in a world where you struggle to find a niche and a happy medium between everything that is expected of you…this is the book for you.

Life After Life

A memoir by an Irish man wrongfully convicted of an act of terrorism in 1970s London who spent 15 years behind bars in a horrific miscarriage of justice. Paddy Armstrongs Life after Life brings you into his world and the terrifying reality of having your freedom wrongfully denied to you and the hardships of living in the aftermath of such injustice. This is a traumatic but an utterly powerful read and I think many English and Irish people would get a lot out of this book.

In White Ink

A series of eleven short stories In White Ink centres around parenthood, marriage, sensuality, perversion and sexual violence. This book isn’t for everyone but for those that like dark and twisted tales this is the collection for you. There’s so many diverse characters and they all have a story to share that hits you hard and makes you really consider what matters in life.  I’ll pick two that illustrate the mix of stories on offer; one tale centres around a wife coming to terms with the signs that were apparent during their honeymoon about her husbands paedophilia, while another story focuses on a bereaved father at the wedding of his late daughters friend. (I told you they were hard hitters!)

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A fictional biography of Stan Laurel of Laurel & Hardy fame, He recreates Hollywood of old and the entirety of Laurels life. It’s totally engrossing, looking at the various loves, losses, comedy career and iconic partnership, all served up in short easy to read chapters (some more like flash fiction). John Connolly has done his research and really brings you on a journey to the dizzying heights of fame and the quick descent into obscurity, through the great joys and the hardship and pain that people experience throughout life. This book would make a wonderful gift for the person you don’t know what to get as it’s a wholly unexpected ride from beginning to end,

 

Let me know if you’re planning on picking any of these books up and if you’ve already enjoyed (or hated!) any on this list!

 

 

*cliffs of moher creative commons image courtesy of Malte Baumann

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Dublin Literary Award 2018 Longlist!

I’m really excited about the release of the longlist for the Dublin Literary Award today! This years list is 150 books long, from almost 40 countries and encompasses 18 languages*! It’s diverse and far reaching and looks incredible.

The Dublin City Council in conjunction with the Dublin Public Library has been giving this international award (worth €100,000) for 23 years now, and the list is curated by taking nominations from over 400 libraries in capital cities and major cities worldwide! I love that the list is created from libraries and nominations are based on novels with high literary merit. The diversity of the nominations makes this awards long and short list releases some of the most enjoyable to look forward to each year, and always broadens my reading horizons. Suffice to say I am a huge #dublitaward fan!

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Genuinely tempted to read through the whole list during the next few months, I would be SO down for some read-alongs if anyone wanted to join me? Let me know in the comments or on twitter! 🙂

I’m going to list the books I either want to read or find the most intriguing from the long-list in another post after I have a chance to read the blurbs for all the books that hadn’t been on my radar before today! Let me know what you think of the longlist and your personal recommendations, I’d absolutely love to hear them!

Happy reading,
Lany

*every book has translated into English to be eligible for this prize!
Creative commons photo credit to Clay Banks

Boy Erased : Garrard Conley : Non Fiction Friday 1

As I’ve gotten older I find myself reaching for more and more non fiction and non fiction narrative/memoirs. While younger me wanted to escape the world and used books to do so, currently I want to feel more like a part of society. and to understand the social, political and religious systems that have created the world and how it came to be in it’s current (scary and sorry) state.

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I came across Boy Erased quite by accident and purchased it on a whim, not knowing what to expect. It’s a memoir by Garrard Conley, a ministers son, who upon being viciously outed by his rapist went to a Christian fundamentalist run “straight camp”. The year was 2004 and he was just 19 years old. He went willingly to the notorious “Love In Action” (LIA) group and his family supported him, with his mom travelling and staying with him during his “treatment”. The LIA really heinously group homosexuality together with pedophilia and bestiality and consider homosexuality to be a disease. He doesn’t go into detailed descriptions of the conversion therapy itself but he goes into enough detail for it to become apparent that it’s a strange bastardisation of the 12 step AA programme and how insidiously awful the LIA are.

I don’t think Garrard gets angry enough at how disgusting the ex-gay group are, he highlights the abuse, the mental torture and bullying that occurred but he falls short of entering full outrage mode; but not to worry the readers of the book do it for him! The searingly honest and simple way he’s written this book really brings out your protective instincts. You’ll be like an angry bear while reading certain parts, you’ll want to smash everything (not only the patriarchy)!

Garrard has written beautifully about love and sexuality and his prose is accessible and compelling. His take on familial love, acceptance and spirituality is interesting as it’s informed by his upbringing in a rural Southern Baptist town and a set of beliefs about an all seeing, all knowing God.He has captured his journey of self acceptance and how it interacts with personal faith and the wider faith community that surrounds him. It’s an interesting and deeply intimate self determining experience that he has chosen to share with us and it should not go unnoticed.

This memoir was undoubtedly upsetting and yet I felt it was very tender and full of hope. The poisonous conversion therapy is so distressing to read about, I don’t like imagining going through it. However in contrast the relationship Garrard has with his family is so beautiful and pure, it really gives the book such a powerful and uplifting sentiment. His mother and father have very different ways of connecting with their son, but you see that behind everything is a deep well of love. It really proves that cliché that love trumps everything.

It gives me hope that despite the fact that intolerance and hateful rhetoric still exists that somehow in the years ahead there may be a more equal future for us all.

4.5/5

PS It was just leaked that there is a film being made! Joel Edgerton will be directing it, and Garrard Conley himself is being included in the process. I am going to make a wish that the film captures the hopeful feeling that the book leaves you with!

 

My Absolute Darling : Gabriel Tallent

This book quickly worked its way into my best reads of 2017, it’s got everything I love; twisted dark family dynamics, a compelling story, well paced and beautiful writing.

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My Absolute Darling follows Turtle a young teenage girl living with her daddy, the man whom she both adores and hates (with good reason). She understands that she’s the thing he loves most in the world. She is petrified by his presence yet she craves his attention, perhaps because it’s all she has. He’s taught her how to use all the guns in their sparse and ‘rough and ready’ home, all the better to face the impending doom facing society. Change is coming however, Turtle is about to connect with people outside the family and make friends…

I really love how Tallent has written this novel, the coarseness of the language used by Turtle and her father was the ideal contrast to the beautiful lyrical descriptions of the environment in which they live. It is such a powerful way of dragging you into the story, you really get a feel for the harshness of the world that surrounds Turtle. The world she inhabits with her daddy is dilapidated and sparse, militaristic, strict and distinctly lacking in home comforts, while the area in which she lives is filled with luscious plant life and beautiful land and seascapes, both rugged and beautiful.

It’s little wonder that Turtle is fascinated by the flowery language that her friends wax lyrical, they care about things like literature and movies, things that Turtle hadn’t even considered to matter before making their acquaintance. She likes to look after objects, but the moment her daddy feels she likes something more than he thinks she should, he sets about to destroy it, and her, wholly.

There are scenes of base depravity and horrific abuse in this book, but it doesn’t reduce Turtle to a one note victim, she is a complex character with conflicting and confusing emotions. She only knows this life, but is smart enough to know it’s not a regular upbringing, she doesn’t know how to feel about it and she struggles to hide it from those around her. She’s fiercely loyal to her daddy and her grandfather, and you see how dysfunctional families can still function somewhat normally. You really feel like you’re there with her, struggling to know yourself and your feelings; bouncing between self hatred and internalised sexism, between being the bully and being the hero. Simultaneously you’ll be absolutely disgusted and angered by the events that unfold and root with all your heart for Turtle.

I felt like this book looked at how misogyny can corrupt and twist a person into a hateful husk of a human. Within the first few chapters you see how much hostility there is towards not only women but any outsider and how this has shrunk the world around Turtle. This atmosphere of distrust puts you constantly on edge, there’s a permeating feeling of unease and you can feel an unspoken threat hanging over you throughout your reading.

The uneasy feeling only helps to heighten the tension that the constant presence of guns and weapons creates. It feels to me that the gun culture in America fetishises not only the guns themselves, but the power that wielding a gun gives you. The fact that guns are so freely and readily obtained by someone who readily admits to being a survivalist with a strong distrust for society should have sent alarms bells ringing in some quarters, but not so in this novel. This approach appears to be par for the course in some parts of the states, and maybe this book in its own way is saying we should question why this is so.

There are of course some small criticisms, in places Tallent can be overly descriptive to the detraction of the story itself, and some of the support characters are very two dimensional. The friends she makes are too perfect, their prose too polished and their personalities very vaguely fleshed out. The teacher is the worst character in my opinion, she’s just simply good, sporty and concerned, I couldn’t connect to her at all because there wasn’t much to connect to. The only other criticism I can level is that the final scenes were highly dramatic but a bit drawn out, I felt like in places it was written more for cinematographic effect than to further the story.

However I loved the actual ending, you leave on an unresolved and unsettled note. wanting to know more, which isn’t a bad way to leave a book at all!

4.5/5