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A Year of Reading Irish by Caroline Doherty de Novoa

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Article by Caroline Doherty de Novoa ©.
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I’ve spent a lot of time this past year talking about guilt, about exile and return, and about mammies, and about the guilt mammies can instil in their offspring when said offspring return from self-imposed exile, which was usually to escape the mammy’s guilt trip in the first place. But I suppose it was to be expected. That’s bound to happen when you join a book club that only reads Irish writers.

I wasn’t looking to read more Irish authors. In fact, Irish authors had never featured heavily on my bookshelf. Colombians? Certainly. Writers from the US? Quite a few. French? Mais oui! But Irish? Not so much.

The choice of book club was more a question of geography. I’d just returned from my own period of exile in Bogotá. Not all the way home to Ireland, but to the Irish enclave of London’s Camden, so close enough. And a Google search revealed the nearest book club to home was at the Irish Centre just five minutes from my house.

At first, I worried it would get repetitive reading only Irish books. But, actually, reflecting on the works of the past year or so, I’m impressed by the variety of tales our small island can produce. I’ve learned new ways of seeing my country as well as discovering the common threads running through most Irish lives.

Some of the highlights for me were:

  • joining John Lennon for scream therapy in a hippy commune in a blustery island off the west coast of Ireland in Kevin Barry’s equal parts whacky and genius Beatlebone;
  • travelling with two young soldiers in love as they try to make a new home for themselves in pioneer America in between the brutality of war in Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End;
  • exploring the parallels between Irish and Jewish culture in Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan by Ruth Gilligan;
  • getting lost in the gorgeous sentences of Colum McCann in Thirteen Ways of Looking;
  • travelling with Maggie O’Farrell from Sweden to Donegal to Bolivia to Brooklyn and back to Donegal in This Must Be The Place; and
  • thinking, probably for the first time ever, about what happened to the Anglo-Irish elite after Independence in William Trevor’s The Story of Lucy Gault.

We’re now on to Roddy Doyle’s Smile and I can’t wait to hear what the rest of the club thinks of it. I suspect it will be very popular but sometimes the group can surprise.

It’s been a fascinating year and, as a writer, most months feel like a master class. So here’s to another year of reading Ireland. I’m sure it will be an interesting and varied year, and no doubt there will still be lots of mammies in my literary year ahead. But, sure I’d expect nothing less from an Irish book club.

The London Irish Book Club meets regularly at the London Irish Centre in Camden. It is free to join and always welcomes new members. For details of the next meet-up check the Facebook page here.

(c) Caroline Doherty de Novoa

About The Belfast Girl:

Loss is woven into the fabric of motherhood…
it starts with a physical separation, a cutting of the cord…

Belfast, December 1993, a baby girl goes missing. Everyone, including her teenage father, believes she has been kidnapped. Two women know different.

New Yorker Janet O’Connell now has the family she’s been longing for. Seventeen-year-old Emma McCourt has a plan to escape her troubled past. And the two women never expect to see one another again.

In a story spanning three decades, from a crime-ridden eighties Manhattan, to the final dark days of the Northern Irish Troubles, to suburban New York and modern day Belfast, we learn just how far each woman will go to protect the lives they have made for themselves.

Order your copy online here.


Caroline Doherty de Novoa is the author of the novels The Belfast Girl and Dancing with Statues, and the editor of the essay collections Was Gabo an Irishman? Tales from Gabriel García Márquez’s Colombia and Cocktails with Miss Austen – Conversations on the world’s most beloved author.
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