Six weeks to go till the big day and I’m looking forward greatly to the light and joy of Christmas. So I’ve started my lists and, needless to say, all my loved ones will be getting something sourced from this great island of ours. When you’re writing to the man in red, please choose Irish, and remember too how much escapism and pleasure literature provided during the last few challenging months. Books make the loveliest presents, both to give and to receive. If you’re not entirely sure of the recipient’s taste, a book token generally goes down a treat.
There’ll be no shortage of suggestions over the next few weeks on these pages, not least in our coverage of this year’s An Post Irish Book Awards. An intrinsic part of the publishing calendar, they’re more important than ever this winter, and we’re very proud here at the paper to continue our sponsorship of the Newcomer of the Year award.
2020’s shortlist is as rich as it is diverse with two highly praised non-fiction works – Diary of a Young Naturalist by young Dara McAnulty and Patrick Freyne’s essay collection, OK, Let’s Do Your Stupid Idea – as well as a gripping crime title, The Temple House Vanishing by Rachel Donohue and a trinity of much lauded literary debuts: Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen, Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan and Niamh Campbell’s This Happy.
I have three sets of this scintillating sextet to give away. To be in with a chance to win, answer this question: who won the Sunday Independent Newcomer of the Year Award in 2019? Email your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday 9 November; winners will be announced here in early December
My favourite novel of 2019 was Joseph O’Connor’s superb Shadowplay; so I was delighted to hear it’s been selected as one of Richard and Judy’s Christmas reads for 2020. Judy’s enthusiastic encomium praised it as “a terrific book, a dramatic, sad, but also richly funny account of some of the most famous characters in late-Victorian London. Here we have fascinating, waspish glimpses of Oscar Wilde, of the most revered actor/manager of all time, Henry Irving, and the gorgeous, beautiful Ellen Terry”.
Allow me to second that with a couple of my own recommendations. Along with Joseph O’Connor, two of my favourite writers are William Boyd and John Banville. I’ve been lucky enough to interview all three and can report that they’re as wonderful on the stage as they are on the page. When we went into Lockdown 2.0 last week, my sanity was preserved by Boyd’s latest, the engaging Trio which follows the shenanigans of a collection of luvvies and film folk on a 1960s movie set in Brighton. Funny and perceptive, it contains a wonderful portrait of Elfrida Wing, a novelist drowning her writer’s block with booze. John Banville, who is incapable of writing a dull sentence, kept me completely captivated with his criminal tour de force. Indeed William Boyd, reviewing Snow for the New York Times last month, described Banville as “one of the great stylists of fiction in English” calling his latest oeuvre, “superbly rich and sophisticated”.
I was transported back to sunnier days with the recent gift of a beautiful book which takes as its subject the majesty of Achill. I was in Mayo this summer and have spent lots of happy times on the island. Now Mary J Murphy’s gorgeous love letter – Achill Painters An Island History – chronicles the many and varied artists drawn down the decades to this Arcadia. It’s available to order online from both Kenny’s and Charlie Byrne’s bookshops in Galway.
And on that note, let me conclude by reminding you to ensure all our beleaguered bookshops – especially the embattled independents – have a happy and prosperous season by buying from them.
Sunday Indo Living