Best Reads of 2020

Headstuff Picks | Best Fiction of 2020

2020 has been another great year for Irish fiction. Whether you are interested in crime or literary fiction or genre fiction (I am not even sure what that is) there has been a constant stream of reading material to keep us going through the never ending cycle of lockdowns. Here are six reads that certainly stood out during 2020.

If you’re favourite novel is here let us know, if it isn’t even more reason to let us know.

Rob Doyle, Threshold

Threshold is the second novel from Rob Doyle (in addition to his wonderful collection of short stories). On the fact of it is the story of not so young anymore man and his travels around Europe and the Middle East as an English teacher. The narrative could be broken into eleven vignettes which are only connected by the narrator and his travails through land, and drugs and love and, not least Philosophy. We see this journey through the eyes of a curious and very sceptical narrator who may or may not be some version of the author. Autofiction is a bit of dirty word in some circles but this is a novel that needs to be read.


Naoise Dolan, Exciting Times

Exciting Times is the debut novel from Naoise Dolan. It is set in Hong Kong and revolves around the relationships between Ava/ Julian and Ava/ Edith. It has been likened to Sally Rooney’s Normal People. The novel is very well written and makes very good use of more modern forms of communication. It not only uses Instagram and WhatsApp but also shows how these two platforms, among others, can increase anxiety and even impede communication. This was a great read.

Louise O Neill, After the Silence

Set in the fictional Inisriun, After the Silence is the fifth novel from the acclaimed Louise O’Neill. It is also a break in some ways from her other novels. It is billed as a psychological crime thriller and while this is true it does not do enough credit to this complex page turner which examines issues such as domestic violence.

Kevin Barry, That Old Country Music

Kevin Barry is best known for his short stories and with That Old Country Music he returns to the shorter form after several very successful forays into the novel. There is something about the short story form and Irish writers which seems difficult to explain. Why are so many of the leading exponents worldwide from this tiny little island? I don’t know what the answer is but Kevin Barry is a perfect example. The stories are all set along the west coast of Ireland and focus on stories that are agonisingly poignant and beautiful. But, above all it is the Barry’s voice which brings all of these stories to life. If you haven’t read any short stories lately, this is the perfect collection for anyone wishing to reacquaint themselves with the short story format. If you liked Last Boat to Tangier then you will love this.

Caoilinn Hughes, The Wild Laughter

The Wild Laughter is nothing if not original. It takes a tale of woe familiar to many and twists the knife deeper, without ever feeling heavy handed or overwhelming the reader. Its influences appear vast, with whispers of McGahern along with Falkner’s darkly comic As I Lay Dying. One of the greatest compliments that can be paid is that The Wild Laughter is decisively subversive and a far from being sentimental. The work is both tender and tough, audacious and fluid. With young writers such as Hughes emerging, there’s comfort in knowing despite uncertainty in everyday life, the Irish novel, at least, is in safe and capable hands.


Daragh Fleming, If you are Reading this then Drink Water

Daragh Fleming burst onto the literary scene with his debut collection of short stories in 2019. The Book of Revelations was an engaging and readable collection with a distinct voice that made it such a memorable collection. Fleming’s second collection of short stories If You are Reading This Then Drink Water had a lot to live up to.

From the outset there is no doubt that the second collection cements him as a distinctive voice in the Irish Short Story scene.


Feature Image by Syd Wachs on Unsplash