Thirteen may be considered unlucky for some, but not to the thirteen on the Man Booker Prize longlist which includes three Irish authors this year. Donal Ryan’s "From a Low and Quiet Sea" is his second nomination for the prize after "Spinning Heart" in 2013. Anna Burns and Sally Rooney both receive their first nominations for "Milkman" and "Normal People" respectively. Belfast born Anna Burns was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, now the Women's Prize for Fiction, in 2001 for her debut; "No Bones". Sally Rooney, at 27, is the joint youngest author to be nominated this year. She can add that to an already impressive resume that includes being the 2017 Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year. Upon ditching the requirement of the author to be either from the U.K. or the Commonwealth two years ago, the two most recent winners of the prestigious accolade have both been from the U.S. Ireland can hold its head high to have the same number of nominations as the U.S. this year. There is only one previous winner nominated this year, Michael Ondaatje, whose book "The English Patient" was crowned the best Man Booker Prize winner of the last 50 years. This year he is nominated for his captivating novel "Warlight", set in post Blitz London in 1945. In a departure for the prize, this year sees a graphic novel, "Sabrina" by Nick Drnaso, nominated for the first time. Judges are quoted as being blown away by Drnaso's "oblique, subtle and minimal" style in a work that explores the chilling effect of 24-hour news after a girl has disappeared.Farouk's country has been torn apart by war. Lampy's heart has been laid waste by Chloe. John's past torments him as he nears his end. From a Low and Quiet Sea centres around the refugee, the dreamer and the penitent. From war-torn Syria to small-town Ireland, three men, scarred by all they have loved and lost, are searching for some version of home. Each is drawn towards a powerful reckoning, one that will bring them together in the most unexpected of ways.In this unnamed city, to be interesting is dangerous. Middle sister, our protagonist, is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with the Milkman. But when first brother-in-law sniffs out her struggle, and rumours start to swell, middle sister becomes 'interesting'. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous. "Milkman" is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.Connell and Marianne both grow up in the same town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. But they both get places to study at university in Dublin, and a connection that has grown between them despite the social tangle of school lasts long into the following years. Sally Rooney's second novel is a deeply political novel, just as it's also a novel about love. It's about how difficult it is to speak to what you feel and how difficult it is to change. It's wry and seductive; perceptive and bold. Normal People will make you cry and you will know yourself through it.As a nation that has the most Nobel Laureates per capita in the world, Ireland has always punched far above her weight in the literary world. Donal Ryan, Anna Burns and Sally Rooney continue the hallowed Irish tradition of captivating their readers with their touching and unflinchingly human stories. We wish them the very best of luck and hopefully one of them will be the fifth Irish Man Booker Prize winner.The Man Booker Prize Longlist:Snap, Belinda BauerMilkman, Anna BurnsSabrina, Nick DrnasoWashington Black, Esi EdugyanIn Our Mad and Furious City, Guy GunaratneEverything Under, Daisy JohnsonThe Mars Room, Rachel KushnerThe Water Cure, Sophie MackintoshWarlight, Michael OndaatjeThe Overstory, Richard PowersThe Long Take, Robin RobertsonNormal People, Sally RooneyFrom a Low and Quiet Sea, Donal RyanPress on the Man Booker:Three Irish Authors nominated for Man Booker Prize 2018 (Irish Times)First Graphic Novel nominated for Man Booker Prize 2018 (The Guardian)About the Man Booker:The Man Booker Prize is one of the world's most famous literary prizes for contemporary fiction. From 2014 eligibility for The Man Booker Prize was extended to include novels originally written in English and published in the UK, regardless of the nationality of their author. Previously it was only awarded to the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland.
Crime fiction books are forever popular, as a look at any weekly bestsellers list will demonstrate. Think 'The Girl on the Train' (which I've just finished reading, and enjoyed), it's been a bestseller for umpteen weeks. Liz Nugent was topping the Irish bestsellers for a number of weeks recently with 'Lying in Wait', while James Patterson's name features regularly on such lists, albeit with books penned by other authors.Right: Donna Leon in Dubray Bookshop, Dublin, April 2013. (See larger image)Most of my reads are of crime novels in translation, as I like to travel the world a bit, at least in print. This literary journey recently took me even as far as Argentina and new-to-me author Claudia Pineiro (see below), an author I might not have discovered if it weren't for the International Dublin Literary Award. The inclusion of novels in translation adds greatly to the standing of this Award and differentiates it from most other book awards, and you could do worse than visit the Award site where you will be presented with hundreds of books to choose from, many in translation.Without further ado, here are five more crime fiction reads worthy of your consideration, four of which have been translated into English. Can you guess which one of the five was written in English? (answer at the bottom)The star ratings are mine, but I also include the ratings from two of the big book sites.A Climate of Fear by Fred VargasThe murder of a woman, made to look like suicide, is soon followed by another. A strange symbol is found near both bodies, and both victims were members of a doomed party that travelled to Iceland ten years before. The victims also seem to have had an association with a secretive society for the study of Maximilien Robespierre. Plenty of mystery here then!Commissaire Adamsberg and his team are really challenged in their efforts to solve the growing number of related murders with evidence at first pointing one way and then another. While the Icelandic connection seems to lose traction with most of the team, with Adamsberg is does not, resulting in friction and loyalties being called into question. The reader too is challenged to decide if clues are real or merely false trails.I can't say this delighted me as much as previous books by French writer Vargas. I rate her very highly so maybe I had high expectations, however the whole Robespierre angle just didn't grab me I'm afraid and at times I found it a bit tedious. But there is still enough here for me to recommend it, if not heartily; maybe you will think more of it than I did.Ratings: Amazon UK - 4.1/5 Goodreads - 3.9/5A Crack in the Wall by Claudia Pineiro Pablo Simó is a married, middle aged architect in a Buenos Aires practice, living a rather ordinary life, neither happy nor unhappy, and with no great expectations of life. But together with his two work colleagues, he harbours a secret that resurrects itself with the appearance one day of a young woman called Leonor who arrives at their practice asking about a certain Nelson Jara. Keeping the secret under wraps becomes more difficult when he strikes up a relationship with Leonor who has asked him to accompany her around the city on an architectural journey. As the day unfolds and details of the three-year old secret become known to us, one thing seems certain: Pablo's life in so many ways is about to change for ever.Not your typical crime story this, it is as much about one individual looking at his life and finally deciding to do something to change its course. In that regard the ending might surprise a little. I liked this.Ratings: Amazon UK - 3.7/5 Goodreads - 3.34/5The Waters of Eternal Youth by Donna LeonCommissario Guido Brunetti is back, this time attempting to discover if, some 15 years before, then 16-year old Manuela Lando-Continui fell into the canal or was pushed. The incident left her brain damaged and forever with the mind of a six year old. Her now elderly grandmother, the Contessa, is keen to discover the truth or otherwise of the outcome of the original police investigation, which concluded, with little or no actual investigation, that she fell.The 25th book in the series starts with a dinner party at which Brunetti is present together with his wife Paolo and her parents. Food always plays a part in the Brunetti series, which I welcome, as I do the home scenes involving Paolo and their children Chiara and Raffi. Ever present also are computer whizz Signorina Elettra, and officers Vianello, Patta and Scarpa, the latter two being as ever less than sympathetic to Brunetti but who the Commissario invariably outwits and out manoeuvers. No different here.An enjoyable enough read enhanced as ever by insights into Venetian life and Venice itself.(Ratings: Amazon UK - 4.7/5 Goodreads - 4.07/5).Midnight Sun by Jo NesboJon, going under the name Ulf for most of the story, is a hapless criminal on the run from his Oslo drug boss known as the Fisherman. His criminal involvement is driven by his desire to pay for his dying child's medical treatment. He somehow becomes the Fisherman's fixer but as an assassin he is an abject failure. As a result he heads for the north of Norway above the Arctic circle where he hides out in a small town. Here he befriends some of the locals including 10-year old Knut and his widowed mother Lea while he waits for the inevitable arrival of the fisherman's henchmen.This differs in so many ways from Norwegian Nesbo's Harry Hole crime series, being shorter (a novella), less violent, having a far simpler plot line and a likable criminal as the central character. It is more about the characters than the crime, it is about second chances. Nesbo is a storyteller first and foremost, thus the prose is simple and you will find this an easy and quick read.(Ratings: Amazon UK - 3.9/5, Goodreads - 3.61/5)Blade of Light by Andrea CamilleriInspector Salvo Montalbano is here investigating an armed robbery that ends with a kiss, and strange goings on at a shed with a disappearing door. Throw in a body that has all the hallmarks of a mafia hit and the involvement of the anti-terrorist police and you have the makings of yet another intriguing and entertaining Camilleri novel.This is the 19th in the Montalbano series and ever present too is the eclectic mix of characters, the beautiful Sicilian backdrop, and Salvo's love affair with food and women, though he has more success with one than the other. Should I maybe mention the presence of yet another love interest to challenge Salvo's long term, long distance relationship with the lovely Livia? If only Livia would come back to live on Sicily instead of making her sad to say brief appearances, sometimes only on the phone at that!Camilleri's crime mystery books are invariably clever, full of twists and humour, and always a great pleasure to read.(Ratings: Amazon UK - 4.6/5, Goodreads - 3.96/5)Below: Donna Leon and myself in Dubray Bookshop in Dublin , 11th April 2013, when she was talking about her work and signing copies of her book 'The Golden Egg' (Commissario Brunetti, #22).And the book written in English is... 'The Waters of Eternal Youth' by Donna Leon. American Donna Leon lives in Venice where her books are based, and all the novels in the Brunetti series (25 to date) have been written in English. Although they have been translated into many languages, she refuses to have them translated into Italian, her explanation being that she doesn't want to be famous where she lives, preferring a certain level on anonymity in her own back yard. Now you know!
In recent months I have continued apace with my crime fiction reading, and here I share with you just some of those reads, they being books by Gillian Flynn, Donna Leon, Thomas Enger and Fred Vargas. So read on!Who at this stage is not familiar to some degree with the story that is 'Gone Girl' seeing how the film version was such a hit? Gillian Flynn's book, upon which the film is based, has proved a huge success, being the 25th bestselling adult fiction title of all time and spending 8 weeks at the top of the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list. 'Gone Girl' is the classic tale of a wife going missing and the finger of suspicion regarding her disappearance pointing at her husband. Where is Amy Dunne, and has loving husband Nick got something to do with her disappearance?This is a well crafted thriller with twists and surprises that will keep you guessing and likely ensure you are always one step at least behind the storyteller. Amy's diary and the gradual release of its contents adds to the mix and has you second guessing at the turn of every page. Nick's actions and thoughts don't help matters. As you delve further into the story things get even darker and the truth behind the seemingly happy marriage begins to unfold. The switching back and forth between the two narrators (Amy & Nick) is done intelligently and in a way that ensures your interest will not wane. This book begs the question - how well can you really know someone?I can well recommend 'Gone Girl', so get reading!. By Its Cover is the twenty-third title in Donna Leon's Venice-based crime series featuring Commissario Brunetti. The theft and vandalism of antiquarian books from a prestigious Venetian library form the basis of this story, and while the staff suspect that an American researcher has stolen them, Brunetti doesn't quite buy in to this theory.As the investigation proceeds, Brunetti seeks to enlighten himself about the stolen books, it being the subject matter rather than the physical beauty of such rare texts that is the appeal. Events take a sinister turn however (albeit half way into the story before so doing) when one of the library's regular readers, an ex-priest, turns up dead, murdered in brutal fashion. As the story progresses, developments point towards the black market in antiquarian books and the involvement of more than one person in the thefts from the library.To my mind, the focus on antiquarian books, in particular the subject matter of the stolen books is likely to be the strongest draw of this story, but if only for bibliophiles. Missing for me was the usual mix of interesting characters and the interactions between them and Brunetti, also the near absence of Brunetti's family and the Venetian cuisine we have become so accustomed to. Add to this the sudden, and for that reason, unsatisfying ending and this all adds up to, for me, one of Leon's least enjoyable works.Pierced by Norway's Thomas Enger is the follow up to 'Burned' and the second in the series featuring Oslo-based journalist Henning Juul. The series is centred around Juul's struggle to deal with the death of his son, which he largely feels responsible for, and his efforts to get to the bottom of the fire that resulted in his son's death and he receiving extensive injuries.In Pierced, Tore Pulli, a prisoner with an upcoming appeal into his conviction for a murder, challenges Juul to find evidence of his innocence, Juul's incentive being that Pulli knows something about the fire that resulted in his son's death and will share it with him in due course. Convinced that something untoward resulted in the fire, Juul has no choice but to investigate despite the weight of evidence against Pulli and the type of character he is. With assistance from fellow journalist, Iver Gundersen, who also happens to be his ex-wife's partner, Juul sets about delving into the seedy and dangerous world of underground gyms and clubs in Oslo.A parallel story involving a news cameraman has you wondering for some time what relevance that story line plays but all eventually become clear. Its inclusion and outcome lends to a complicated and involving plot which, for me, was largely satisfying and deemed the book a worthy read despite the book maybe being unnecessarily long at over 500 pages.Juul's struggle to deal with his son's death, plus his relationship with his ex-wife and her current partner, add nicely to the story and indeed serve to enhance the book's overall appeal.Given that the series continues with 'Scarred', which I now look forward to reading, it might be safe to assume that Juul's struggle will continue a bit longer despite what this story might reveal. Enjoy, I did!It's always a joy to read a book by France's Fred Vargas, the creator of the fabulous Commissaire Adamsberg series. Dog Will Have His Day , though not from the Adamsberg series, predates all but one in fact of the Adamsberg titles. Originally published back in 1996, it is the second of three in The Three Evangelists series, the first being The Three Evangelists; we await the third in translation.This book features Parisian Louis, or Ludwig, Kehlweiler, who, having discovered a human toe bone that was deposited by a dog (!) near his regular park bench, sets about investigating its source and, as he suspects, a possible murder. This investigation takes Louis and his pet toad (!) ,which he keeps in his pocket, to a town in Brittany as he follows the trail of the offending dog and his walker. Here an old woman has been found dead on a beach, minus of course a toe!The book is full of interesting and colourful characters, some you might even think eccentric, which is what you come to expect from Vargas, character development though being only one of her many attributes as a writer. There is Louis of course, a former investigator with the Ministry of Justice; old Marthé, a former prostitute; Marc, a medievalist and one of the evangelists; and others. Vargas also here paints a vivid and interesting picture of a provincial town and Breton life.This book is a wonderful crime mystery and was my delight to read, you will certainly want to seek out other titles by Vargas having read it. And I would highly recommend you to!Happy reading!