Ireland is enjoying a golden age in literature right now. Our three Man Booker Prize winners, John Banville, Roddy Doyle and Anne Enright head a host of established and emerging literary talent. And what’s true for literature, also goes for the other genres. Have we ever had so many brilliant crime writers, or such a wealth of good women’s fiction?
Twenty-five years ago, when Patricia Scanlan published City Girl, it caused a sensation. At last, Irish readers had their own brand of the sex and shopping novel! By the late nineties, we’d seen the emergence of Cathy Kelly, Marian Keyes and Sheila O’Flanagan – affectionately known, at the time, as the big four, and popular fiction, in Ireland had come of age.
Since then, writers have come and gone, but Shelia O’Flanagan goes on forever! Endlessly prolific, she has just published her 27th novel – in twenty years – a remarkable achievement. The latest, Her Husband’s Mistake, Headline Review, €16.85 starts when Roxy, after twenty years of happy marriage, comes home to find her plumber husband, Dave, in bed with their next-door neighbour, the bootylicious Julie Halpin.
What should she do? He swears it was a once off which meant nothing, but can she trust him again? In the following 440 pages she reassesses her life – realising that, since the birth of her children, and the illness, then death of her father, she has lost sight of who she is. Written with her customary insight, this tale provides plenty of twists to keep you entertained on the beach or by the pool.
If you’re going abroad, and likely to be spending time at airports, and in queues, a good thriller will make you forget the frustration and delays – and there’s no one better to keep you enthralled than Cork’s own Catherine Ryan Howard. Since her debut, Distress Signals, was published in 2017, she’s been shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards; the CWA John Creasy New Blood Dagger; and the Mystery Writers of America Best Novel Edgar Award – only the second Irish woman to achieve this.
The Liar’s Girl, a wonderful psychological tale set in a fictitious version of Trinity College Dublin, confirmed her talent, and my proof of her new one, Rewind, Corvus, to be released in August, had me so enthralled that I, literally, could not put it down.
Right up to the minute, with its theme of Influencers, and subsequent stalkers, it featured, amongst others, a deliciously determined wannabe reporter, Audrey, who, asked by her boss to write two paragraphs on Natalie, the Instagram celebrity who has disappeared, can’t resist taking off and investigating it all for herself. Almost every chapter brings with it a new shock or surprise.
If the journey has taken it out of you, and you want the frothiest entertainment to bring your stress levels down, look no further than Bride Squad Runaway. Black & White Publishing. €14.60. It’s Ava’s wedding day, when she hears, on Joe Duffy’s Liveline that her soon to be husband has been playing away.
Cue, a wild Irish Road trip, with her best friends Lauren and Cate. After the laughter, drunkenness, tears and torment, will she and Simon be reunited? Does she even want them to be? Few surprises in this romp from seasoned author Caroline Grace Cassidy, and debut author Lisa C. Carey, but it’s a lot of fun, and all royalties are being donated to a cancer charity.
There are some wonderful family tales out in time for the holidays. The best, The Outsider. Hachette Books Ireland. €15.73, a fourth novel from Emily Hourican, proves that she is as good a writer as she is a journalist.
It all starts in Portugal, when a tentative friendship between 10-year olds Jamie and Sarah brings their families together. They keep contact in Dublin – Sarah loved being drawn into the rigours of a large, boisterous family – but her parents, Miriam and Paul are conscious that they will always be overshadowed by their richer, flashier friends.
And when, as the years pass, the families spend time in Kerry, becoming even more entangled, will their friendship endure? Or will the adult indiscretions and teenage obsessions shatter the illusion? Hourican, who writes great character driven novels, has always written well about the intricacies of family and friendships, and this book shines a light on marriage, teenage angst, and the desperate wish to belong. It’s a perfect, substantive beach read.
And if you enjoyed that one, you’ll also like the new one from former editor, Alison Walsh. The Start of Summer, Hachette Books Ireland. €15.73, looks at the friendships formed by new mothers, who, with little in common, are drawn together by the shock of sleepless nights and the endless demands new babies make.
When Elise notices three women congregating in the park, she feels jealous. She’s lonely, but finds friendships hard to sustain. And when Gracie, Lina, and Jane draw her into the group, she’s pleased, but tries too hard to fit in. And they, in their turn, are aware that her presence upsets the delicate balance they had achieved. But are the other women’s lives as serene as Elise first imagined?
Clearly not. Lina, a single mum by choice finds motherhood is not all its cracked up to be; the timid Jane is scared of the husband she once adored; even the confident Gracie has her demons to contend with – money has become an issue. When their problems start to overwhelm them, will they support each other, or will the fragile friendships fracture?
Sinéad Moriarty’s fourteenth novel, Seven Letters, Penguin Ireland, €14.60, should come with a health warning. Before you settle down on the lounger beside the pool, make sure you have a box of tissues handy, and the largest pair of dark glasses to hide behind. Moriarty, who always writes about ‘issues,’ focuses this one on Sarah, a loved-up mum to Izzie, who plunges into a coma during her second pregnancy.
What should happen next? Her husband and sister can’t agree, the clock is ticking, and the doctors need a decision. And what about seven-year-old Izzie? With her once united family falling apart, will she lose everything she has known? This novel is based on a real-life case, and Moriarty has handled her material with the greatest sensitivity and thought. Moriarty has built up a dedicated fan base over the years, and this one will please them. It just might be her finest novel yet.
When you’ve shed all those tears, you’ll need a gritty tale to get your teeth into. Derry writer, Claire Allan, has written many, excellent women’s fiction novels over the years. A former journalist, she wrote about issues from depression to Alzheimer’s, but always with a light humourous touch. Then, last year, deciding to explore her dark side, she turned to crime. The first two made a splash, and she’d now published a third. Forget Me Not. Avon Books. €8.98.
It’s six in the morning during the hottest summer in Northern Ireland, when Elizabeth O’Loughlin, out walking her dog, comes across a woman who, having suffered a knife attack, is clinging onto life. Clare dies minutes later, and soon it become clear that her killer planned this, and intends to find more victims.
Her friends, Julie and Rachel, are both traumatised and terrified. So starts this clever thriller – one with lots of twists and several smoke screens. It’s told, in alternating chapters by Elizabeth and Rachel. It’s a great read – combining the domestic lives of the women with the terrifying scenarios. I’m sometimes nervous when a writer changes genre, but Claire Allan has shown that she has what it takes to tackle crime; she has it in spades.
Published in The Irish Examiner, on 22nd June, 2019.
© Sue J Leonard. 2019.