Essential Irish Literature

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It's not just Guinness stout and shamrocks that make up Ireland's culture. Here are some of the best, most pivotal Irish writers that moulded the western literary scene.
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Bookmateadded a book to the bookshelfEssential Irish Literaturelast year
Amazing stories about Irish immigrants; told by eminent Irish Americans.
When builders arrive to fix a deserted house next door, everyone expects the worst. But when the handsome workman looks to Nan to help unravel the mystery of the previous residents' disappearance, a strange relationship develops. With family dynamics and crooked developers in the wings, things are about to get very messy…

Award-winning author Maeve Binchy actually started her career in journalism. Her first published book is a compilation of her newspaper articles titled My First Book. As far as Irish authors go, Binchy is one constantly dealt with the duality of Ireland, dealing with the tensions between urban and rural life, the contrasts between England and Ireland, and the dramatic changes in Ireland between World War II and the present day.
The Builders, Maeve Binchy
Three women (mistress, wife, and daughter) uncover their passion for the same man and confront the ways that love can simultaneously liberate and entrap. This lyrical and captivating drama weaves together their stories to construct the portrait of a man through their eyes, and is a powerful work that explores sex, marriage, and predatory relationships.

Award-winning Irish author Edna O'Brien is well known for her early novels which caused a huge storm in her homeland in the sixties. Her works often revolve around the inner feelings of women, and their problems in relating to men, and to society as a whole.
Irish writer Enright's third novel envisions the life of the woman who became that country's Eva Peron. It's full of decadence, vice, love, passion, and the trials and tribulations that come in the form of an affair.

And here's the truth that's not far from fiction: Irishwoman Eliza Lynch was the mistress-wife of Francisco Solano López, president of Paraguay, and the most vilified woman in Latin-American. In any case, Anne Enright's ficional tale of Eliza Lynch is equally captivating and eye-opening, and is definitely one that sets her firmly in place of Irish authors.
In Dublin late 1970s, two teenage girls from a convent school fall in love. They're together and nothing can separate them - not their opposing personalities, not secrets, not even infidelity. But 13 years later, a car crash rips their lives apart. Hood is about novel about coming to terms with truths in all manners, overcoming the shackles that bind and embracing the love from family.
Michael Harding might have only written three novels so far but that doesn't mean he's not one to be noticed - he, in fact, has written countless plays. Bird in the Snow is his latest novel, and is one that touches on love and death through memory and it's so sensitively written, that it's impossible not to be moved.
W.B Yeats was such a main figure in English literature, but we also often forget that he's got Irish roots as well. His poetry made him one of the foremost figures of 20th-century literature and a pillar of both the Irish and British literary establishments.
Rilke on Black is one of Ken Bruen's earlier noir work and it's easy to see how he always had that quick wit about his writing. Rilke on Black is set in London, and it's a poor kidnapping plan that gone terribly terribly wrong.
Rilke on Black, Ken Bruen
Irish filmmaker and screenwriter Neil Jordan is more known for his films, but let's not forget that he's quite the novelist as well. Shade is a part fantasy, part historical fiction novel that tells the story of two pairs of siblings growing up in Ireland in the first half of the century. But it's not all roses for them, as they grow up and come face to face with each other, after they've been torn by the outbreak of war.
The Magician's Wife is Irish-Canadian author Brian Moore's last novel before he passed away. The award-winning author was the winner of the inaugural Sunday Express Book of the Year award in 1987, and he was shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times (in 1976, 1987 and 1990). When it comes to underrated Irish writers, he's one of them that you must uncover and discover for yourself.
For a bit of realism and insight into the history of Dublin, look no more and read Strumpet City. The historical novel by James Plunkett is set in Dublin at the time of the Dublin Lock-out. Get swept up in the lives of all the compelling characters and follow their lives as they live through the tumultuous events that affected Dublin between 1907 and 1914.
The Picture of Dorian Gray is the only novel that Oscar Wilde wrote, but it definitely remains a classic in its own right. It's not just one of the great works of a great Irish author and playwright, but it's also considered a great piece in the gothic-horror genre.
The Picture Of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
You don't bring up Irish literature without talking about master James Joyce and his quintessentially Irish work "Dubliners". What else can we say - it's literally a short story full of Dubliners. But James Joyce writes with such an astute eye and keen observation that the characters almost jump out from the pages and into real life.
Dubliners, James Joyce
This is one long fruit of labour if there was. This book of poems, A Fool's Errand, took 12 years to write, and it's every bit worth it. He said in an interview with Guardian that "... it was actually finished and ready for the publisher in 2002, but I held back because there was something nagging away at me about the narrative, something not right. Eventually, I sat down and took out all the dream sequences. I really liked them, but I felt I was avoiding the real issue. I wanted to let in other realities without recourse to dreamscape."
Consider this your modern day Anna Karenina if you wish - but this time instead of Russia, twenty-first-century Dublin was chic, seductive, and affluent. Fox, Swallow, Scarecrow is an illuminating, glitzy look into the nu-Irish culture.
Reading Winterwood is almost like hearing an Irish man narrate about his life. Winner of the 2007 Irish Book Award of the Year, Winterwood has a simple plot. Father and husband Hatch revisits the secluded mountains where he grew up in, but a mysterious figure starts to intrude in his life and causes a string of events that make life spiral out of control. Patrick McCabe allows his protagonist and narrator to be so unapologetically Irish, making this such a refereshing, riveting read.
Let the Great World Spin is set in America, where the world watches in disbelief as a mysterious tightrope walker is running, dancing, leaping between the towers, suspended a quarter mile above the ground in August 1974. It's a great novel that captures the spirit of New York City, but let's not forget that Colum McCann is Irish, first and foremost.
Flann O’Brien is not the easiest writer to read, but this Irish satirist wrote such great books musing about politics and philosophy. The Third Policeman is a brilliantly dark comic novel about the nature of time, death, and existence. It's set in rural Ireland and follows an Irish narrator through life and eventual death. Critics have called this a "mythic power" and its definitely one book that will remain a classic.
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