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.
Christmas Holidays - time to curl up with a book...
I love the long, warm, bright summer evenings - but the long, chilly, dark winter evenings have their charms too, as long as I have something good to read. The girls in my house have stored up some special reads for those lazy days between Christmas and New Year. We've had to banish the chosen books from sight so we're not tempted to start reading immediately - there lies grave danger of no present buying, pudding making, tree trimming or other essential ingredients of Christmas. Daughter Number One is hoarding Caitlin Moran's 'Moranthology' - she enjoyed 'How To Be A Woman' and no doubt we'll all dip into this anthology if we get a chance. Her second choice is another anthology, 'We Have a Good Time, Don't We?' by Maeve Higgins. Having loved Maeve's quirky comedy routines and television appearances (especially 'Fancy Vittles' with her sister Lily Higgins) she is looking forward with mounting pleasure to meeting Maeve again in print. If Maeve's recent columns in the Irish Times as stand-in for Róisín Ingle are any indication, the book should be a great read (I'll be waiting in line to grab it as soon as she puts it down).Daughter Number Two is a history addict and has ordered the O'Brien Press graphic novel 'At War With The Empire' by Gerry Hunt - it will be an historic moment in itself if I can keep it out of her hands until after Christmas. She will also probably re-read 'The Fault In Our Stars' a sad and funny coming of age novel by John Green. In fact, given enough time curled up in her new dinosaur 'onsie' she will probably read her way through John Green's entire back catalogue.Both of them will spend many competitive minutes scanning 'Where's Larry' - Ireland's answer to 'Where's Wally' - to find Larry the Leprechaun at the Cliffs of Moher, Newgrange, the St. Patrick's Day Parade and, my favourite, Puck Fair (who says you have to grow up?)And me? I've squirreled away 'Standing in Another Man's Grave', the new Rebus novel by Ian Rankin - fans don't need an explanation. I might also try 'Brother Grimm' by Craig Russell, as recommended by a fellow blogger on this site - who could resist the joint lure of crime and fairytales? Neither daughter is a crime fiction fan (yet) so I won't have to fight to keep the books to myself - though I reserve the right to steal glances at their choices. Roll on the holidays!All seven of our holiday reading choices are available in Dublin City Public Libraries - though you might have to join a waiting list for the more popular titles (or ask Santa). Ten seems to be the magic number for lists, so I'd love to hear your three suggestions to finish the holiday reading list - go on...tell us - who will you be curling up with this Christmas?
Have you ever speculated which books you would bring with you to a desert island? (I've always thought that should be 'deserted' not 'desert' but perhaps it's an obscure grammar point I don't get?) As part of the Re Think + Re Act Exhibition, Pivot Dublin have set up a Reading Room in Filmbase in Temple Bar, Dublin. They invited readers in Dublin to submit their favourite book to be displayed in the Reading Room during the exhibition. My choice? The three girls in my family got together to raid our groaning bookshelves and share our favourite books with Dubliners at the Reading Room. Come along and see if you can find them.Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and the Story of a Return, by Marjane Satrapi - all three of us love this book. It's a graphic novel that tells the story of one girls experience in pre and post revolution Iran. It's funny and sad and infuriating and brilliant. It was made into an excellent animated film by Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi.An Chanáil, by Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick - one of the very few children's books that depicts an accurate, modern (relatively) urban Dublin. This is a very special book, unfortunately now out of print. If you live anywhere between the two canals, take a close look at this and inhabit the streets along the Grand Canal in a new, virtual way, while sharing the story of a child and a lost dog. The Tin-Pot Foreign General and the Old Iron Woman, by Raymond Briggs - we show this book to everyone who comes into our house, and then sit back and watch their reaction. Have a look yourself and see the genius of the creator of the (much more famous) Snowman in a much darker mood in this savage political satire and heart-breaking anti-war picturebook that defies categorisation, but is definitely not for young children. The book was created in reaction to the Falklands War and the two main characters are thinly disguised versions of the Argentinian General Galtieri and Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. A perfect example of 'Re Think, Re Act'. This is Ireland, by M. Sasek - This is part of a series, which includes 'This is London', 'This is Paris', 'This is Edinburgh' and 'This is New York' - published over fifty years ago but re-issued in the original format with some updates at the end. They are a kind of time-warp Pathé News style 'best bits' travelogue of each place. For some strange reason 'This is Ireland' highlights Kilbeggan and its distillery as one of the highlights of Ireland - maybe the writer had a granny from Westmeath! Mister Magnolia, by Quentin Blake - almost anything by Quentin Blake could have been included here, but Mister Magnolia has a special place in our hearts. When children are very young they often insist on the same story being read again, and again, and again, and ag...you get the drift. This is when a well written, brilliantly illustrated and consistently amusing story is worth anything you have to pay for it. This is one I never got bored with - even when daughter number one would ask for it just 'one last, last, last time'. Quentin Blake is probably best known as the illustrator of Roald Dahl's stories, but he has proved time and time again that he can write his own stories too.Horrible Histories: Ireland, by Terry Deary - this one was chosen by the younger members of the household, but who am I to argue with them? History with all the good bits left in! And, unlike one or two of my other choices, at least it's easily available.A Monster Calls, a novel by Patrick Ness, from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd - this book has been deservedly chosen by so many people as one of the best childrens books of recent years, in fact, one of the best books of recent years. It's about facing up to impending bereavement and making the best of flawed but emotionally 'good enough' relationships. I got my (adult) Book Club to read it last year and they were stunned by its integrity and emotional power. It may be written for children, but it doesn't talk down to anyone. Kissing the Witch, by Emma Donoghue - Dublin born, Canada based writer Emma Donoghue had a small but loyal following until the Booker Prize-winning novel 'Room' catapulted her to international literary stardom. Emma wrote 'Kissing the Witch' in 1988, long before 'Room' - it's a collection of fairy tales, re-worked from a feminist perspective. Sound dull? I suppose it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I really, really love this book. Actually, this is a perfect 'Re Act, Re Think' book too because each story completely re-imagines a well known fairy tale; Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Cinderella etc. Emma retells each story in her elegant, exact, poetic prose, but this time we go beyond the archetypes of the stories to the reality of their situations, for example, in this version the Little Mermaid ends up, not as foam on the waves, but as a 'ruined woman' when her prince rejects her love for a more suitable match. Each linked story has a 'pivotal moment', usually when the heroine rejects the advice of her older and wiser sister - now, if she'd only listened to that witch... We are all doomed to ignore the witch though - until we become her!That's all folks! Well, you didn't really expect me to choose just one book, did you?Now...what would you choose?
'Newspaper Headlines Written By Poets': Graphic Novels
Once derided as a literary medium for 'children and the simple-minded', comic books or graphic novels have become a respected and respectable literary genre in their own right. Any condescension seems to be a peculiarly Anglo/Hiberno prejudice as comics are fully incorporated into the literary heritage of many countries, most notably the USA, Japan, and France. Things seem to be changing here in Ireland with noted writers such as Peter Murphy and Kevin Barry championing the format as well as a small but vibrant domestic scene (which shall be the subject of a future blog).Graphic novels are prohibitively expensive to buy but Dublin City Public Libraries has an excellent collection for both children and adults. The following selection is largely aimed at the adult reader taking their first exploratory steps into a format they may have ignored since their days of reading The Beano and The Dandy. Explore and enjoy. From Hell, Being A Melodrama In Sixteen Parts by Alan Moore/Eddie Campbell (1989)From Hell is a watershed publication in the history of graphic novels and its macabre power remains undimmed. Ostensibly a forensic examination of the 'Jack the Ripper' murders of 1888, it quickly moves beyond the restrictions of the police-procedural genre to present an all-encompassing account of London society at the end of the nineteenth century taking in Fenianism, Victorian surgery, the rise of the gutter press, Freemasonry, and the submerged demonic histories of Hawksmoor's churches. From the beginning, Moore identifies the Ripper as Sir William Gull, a physician dispatched by Queen Victoria to remove a potential threat to the establishment in the form of an illegitimate royal baby. Gull's ritualistic murders of five London prostitutes are covered up by Buckingham Palace and the Metropolitan Police. As Gull moves throughout Victorian society on his infernal quest, he encounters John 'The Elephant Man' Merrick, a young Aleister Crowley, Oscar Wilde, and William Butler Yeats who receives a ticking off as a mere 'dabbler' in the occult through his involvement in the peurile Order of the Golden Dawn. Copious annotations supplement and enrich the story. Alan Moore mischievously (and accurately) described it as 'wrapping up miserable little killings in supernatural twaddle' but reading From Hell is an immersive and deeply unsettling experience.Maggie the Mechanic: A Love & Rockets Book by Jaime Hernandez (collected 2007)The Love & Rockets series was created by the Hernandez brothers in the early 1980s. Coming out of the vibrant Californian punk scene of the time (they designed album covers for Big Black and Agent Orange amongst others), they created their own netherworld from a variety of influences including punk, graffiti, pulp science-fiction, and Latino gang culture. Maggie the Mechanic is an ideal entry-point to this unique and vicacious world where mechanics and female wrestlers are the dominant cultural icons. Featuring over sixty-four characters (including horned billionaire H.R. Costigan, himbo extraordinaire Rand Race, and wrestler/revolutionary Rena Titanon), it focuses on the adventures of rocket-ship mechanic Maggie and her girlfriends - "Las Locas" - as they mix with the great and not-so-great in their idiosyncratic Mondo Bizarro. Less tricksy and self-consciously experimental than many of its peers, the Love & Rockets series is always effervescent and impossible to read without an ever-widening grin. Charley's War by Pat Mills/Joe Colquhoun (1979-)First published in the British weekly Battle, Charley's War is the most brutal series ever published in a mainstream comic. Pat Mills was determined to create an historically accurate account of the First World War in comic strip form. Charley's War follows the life of a young conscript Charley Bourne through the trenches of Flanders from 1916 to the 1918 Armistice. Mills used the strip to make a simple point; the Great War was the greatest systematic betrayal of the British working classes by their 'betters'. The tone is savage. Scenes include Charley carrying around the remains of his best friend Ginger in a bag looking for a place to bury him, Charley being haunted by a ghost clad in the Union Jack demanding his 'blood sacrifice' for King and Country, Charley being forced to shoot conscientious objectors, and many, many more. Titan books have collected and beautifully re-issued the stories in six volumes with detailed historical notes and a gloriously spiky and unrepentent series commentary by Pat Mills. Mills reveals that his research for Charley's War included Donegal writer Patrick McGill's novels The Big Push (1916) and The Red Horizon (1916) and singles out General Maxwell - who bombed the tenements of Dublin during the 1916 Rising - as typical of a ruling class that marched hundreds of thousands to their deaths. It is a depressing thought that there is no chance that something like Charley's War would be allowed to be published for children today. When I was a young fella, Charley's War was the talk of our playground. Read it and you will understand why many historians believe that Charley's War should be taught in classrooms today. For a French take on The Great War see Jacques Tardi's classic It Was The War Of The Trenches. Ethel & Ernest by Raymond Briggs (1998)Raymond Briggs is best known as the creator of The Snowman and Fungus the Bogeyman. His personal favourite among his publications is the peerless Ethel & Ernest. It tells the story of Briggs' parents Ernest (a milkman) and Ethel (a housewife) and their life in Britain from their initial courtship in the late 1920s to their eventual deaths within months of each other in 1971. It is one of the greatest works of social realism published in post-war Britain. There seems to be a curious conceit in some literary circles that 'ordinary' lives - marriage, work, raising kids, retirement - are somehow dull on the page. Ethel & Ernest is the best possible rejoinder to this sneer. Briggs' loving yet unsentimental portrait of his parents is one of literature's greatest expressions of filial love. I can't imagine how he felt when he drew their respective death scenes. This is art of the highest order. If the final pages do not move you beyond words then check if you still have a pulse. Read and recommend to anyone you care about. Raymond Briggs once claimed that Chris Ware's heartbreaking Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid On Earth was the greatest graphic novel ever published. He's wrong. Ethel & Ernest is. The Boys by Garth Ennis/Darick Robertson (2006-)County Down's Garth Ennis is one of the most distinctive writers to have emerged from this island in the past twenty years. He made his mark on the comics scene with his much lauded Hellblazer (1990-1994) and Preacher series (1995-2000). The Boys is his hate-tribute to the superhero genre. Although Ennis's work is characterised by profanity and extreme violence, he is a deeply moral writer. For Ennis, the superhero genre was utterly discredited by 9/11 and subsequent events. The Boys is his attempt to, as one commentator put it, 'slather the whole genre in filth'.The Boys is set in an all-too-familiar America where the government is in thrall to big business and private interests dictate military operations. Superheros are in the pocket of corporations and are largely (and this is explicitly illustrated) amoral degenerates. 'The Boys' are a group of CIA operatives who keep the superheros in line through ultraviolence. Ennis's intention to debase an entire genre would not be so interesting if it wasn't so funny. Strictly for adults, this is satire with an iron fist. Seriously, this is STRICTLY FOR ADULTS. 100 Bullets: First Shot, Last Call by Brian Azzarello/Eduardo Risso (1999-)Imagine the complexity of HBO's The Wire crossed with the hard-boiled noir of Richard Stark and you are somewhere close to describing the scintillating 100 Bullets series. A mysterious character - 'Agent Graves' - approaches a variety of individuals whose lives have been ruined with the contact details of those responsible, an untraceble gun, and one hundred bullets. A complex tale of shadowy organisations and hitmen with shifting allegiances builds from this simple ingenious concept. Featuring the justly-lauded artwork of Eduardo Risso, this is a high-octane, bloodsoaked saga. DMZ by Brian Wood/Riccardo Burchielli (2005-)When the DMZ series concluded recently, readers were able to appreciate how monumental an undertaking it was. It is at once a love-letter to New York and an allegory of America's foreign policy in the past decade. Set in the near future, it posits Manhattan Island as the DMZ of the warring sides as the Second American Civil War between the United States and the secessionist 'Free States' reaches stalemate. A young journalist Matty Roth is trapped in the DMZ and begins broadcasting the news that nobody wants to hear. In parallel with the general public's growing disenchantment with news corporations, Matty slowly breaks links with his parent organisation Liberty News. Small wonder that DMZ has found some of its most vocal advocates among journalists. Wood and Burchielli use the story to bring home the repercussions of America's foreign policy by replaying events on domestic soil. For example, the horrors of Haditha are revisited on Americans by Americans. This is highly-charged and inventive political writing. The sinister 'Trustwell' Corporation that is rebuilding the DMZ bears more than a passing resemblance to Haliburton. One narrative arc considers a Hugo Chavez-type figure running as Governor of the DMZ and raises the decidedly un-American notion of 'class warfare'. DMZ surely stands alongside Sebastian Junger's War, The Hurt Locker, and Bruce Springsteen's Magic as a powerful commentary on America at war in the twenty-first century. 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die by Paul Gravett (ed.) (2011)This is an excellent single-volume reference guide to the comic/graphic novel from The Adventures of Mr Obadiah Oldbuck (1837) to Craig Thompson's monumental Habibi (2011). It throws up a few surprises (e.g. the great surrealist painter Max Ernst published a graphic novel) but its real value is the entries on non-English language material from Asia and Africa. This is as close as those of us who are linguistically-challenged will get to these. Be warned - this book could seriously damage your wallet as you begin to hunt down such gems as Charlie Adlard's White Death, Dave McKean's Cages, and Jack Kirby's Fourth World/New Gods. On the other hand, you could ask your friendly neighbourhood librarian to order them for you....
I was intending to post this earlier this week, and then I got laryngitis and my doctor determined that I needed rest, so here's part 2 of my 2011 favourites. Fiction, of a more adult nature, post 1 was Non-Fiction and post 3 will be Young Adult and Children'sI read a lot of books over the last year, approximately 290 of which I noted from the library.Of all the books I read from the library some stood out, I couldn't pick a small number but I'm going to put them into themes and pick the best of that theme. Sometimes it's hard to pick just one, the first listed is my favourite, the rest are in no particular order. This isn't a definitive list, it's a list of books that are readable alone or are the start of a series, that I read during 2011, that stood out above the others and that I would recommend to others.Adult FictionSpirit Thief - Rachael Aaron - Eli Monpress is a charmer and this fantasy novel sucked me in. Surprisingly deep.What happens in London - Julia Quinn - light but enjoyable romantic fluff, my first Julia Quinn and not my lastGone-Away World - Nick Harkaway - messed up SF, near future novel.Chasing Fire - Nora Roberts - during the fire season a female firefighting captain has to deal with a firebug and romance. Nora Roberts remains a favourite writer, nothing too deep but I find her consistently readable.Black Swan Rising - Lee Carroll - interesting Urban fantasy taking a different twist on some of the tropes. Graphic NovelsWhile some of the graphic novels I read were more young adult or childrens, these two are pretty graphic but worthwhile reads. - the story of Crecy by one of the footsoldiers. Nasty, brutish and graphic, but true to life.Charley's War : Great Mutiny - Pat Mills et al., this is an iconic series, brutal and realistic, a good one to start discussion on World War I, this one is part of a series, but it does stand alone. You'll want to read the others after it.Re-ReadsGame of Thrones by George R R Martin - inspired by the series, I found it less of a slog the second time through. Stark, brutal fantasy series.Marsha Mellow and Me - Maria Beaumont - what if, on a dare, you wrote a novel that then was embarrassingly, wildly popular. I laughed my way through it both times.