Well it’s that time of year and we look back at what has been a really strong and eventful year for Irish books and publishing and wonder if the year ahead will see as good a crop of new and provocative writing. For me as well this time is marked by the sad memory of learning of Caroline Walsh’s premature death just before last Christmas; and also the loss of Maeve Binchy whose generosity was as deep and broad as her work – our thoughts are with their families who will miss them keenly during the holidays.
Sometimes I think in the run up to Christmas we can overlook some books and often ones published earlier in the year. For me there have been some really notable publications this year, including one or two that I have to declare a professional interest in. That said, I have picked five different titles which may have slipped by some people and would be a welcome arrival in anyone’s stocking.
First up is my book of the year The China Factory by Mary Costello which was published by The Stinging Fly – whose literary magazine appears three times a year and its subscription would make a great gift for any keen reader of writer. The China Factory is a truly provocative and pristine debut short story collection. I read the 12 stories in two sittings, six at a time and like many of its characters found sleep elusive and troubled. The book was deservedly nominated for The Guardian First Book Award and on the best newcomer shortlist in The Irish Book Awards.
Non-fiction publishing is perhaps Irish publishing’s strongest sector and two books – published by New Island and Liffey Press respectively jump out at me for different reasons. The first is Dunphy – A Football Life by Jared Browne who is a former Irish under-age international footballer himself, which is a sports book like no other really as the author gets to the core of this most irreverant and irrespressible commentator and national provocateur. The other is another unique offering (illustrated above) and one that only an Irish independent publisher would and could do justice: The Lightkeeper is Gerard Butler’s wonderful memoir of his 21 years tending to many lighthouses such as Bull Rock, Mizen Head, the Old Head of Kinsale and the infamous Fastnet Rock. He was the last in a line of three generations of Light House Keepers.
A book that engrossed, perplexed, annoyed and made me laugh out loud – though not all at once – was Keith Ridgway’s latest book Hawthorn and Child. A novel or a series of intertwined episodes? You decide but there is no arguing that some of the writing here is as good as anything anywhere in 2012. If you have time check out Ridgway’s last and unheralded release Animals
Lastly an interesting development in terms of Irish publishing on one level, but more significantly another great debut is The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan. A co-publication of Lilliput Press and Transworld’s new imprint Doubleday Ireland, Ryan was the winner of the best newcomer award at the Irish Book Awards. Ryan’s first novel is set amidst Ireland’s financial collapse and the drama of a kidnap and murder unfold in a small town and is a superb read for anyone.
Hopefully something here for you and yours to pick up, enjoy and pass on
Till this time next year, do buy a book for Christmas….
(Peter O’Connell Media)