HeadStuff Picks | Books of the Year 2017
We have asked some of Ireland’s top literary types to give us their top picks for Books of the Year 2017. Did we miss any of your favourites? Let us know in the comments.
Let’s get stuck in:
Here are the HeadStuff Books of the Year 2017
My Absolute Darling by debut writer Gabriel Tallent was my book of 2017. It is a shocking, harrowing and startlingly beautiful novel about a young girl’s survival and her dangerously dysfunctional relationship with her father. Tallent describes the Mendocino landscape that surrounds them in vivid detail, and the scenes where young Turtle discovers that her father has brought home a new victim add a whole different level of stress to an already intense read. Not for the faint-hearted.
Liz’s first novel Unravelling Oliver was published to critical and popular acclaim in Ireland in 2014. Her second novel, Lying in Wait, released in 2016 went straight to number 1 in the Irish Bestseller lists, remaining there for nine weeks and spent eight months in the top ten and was also chosen as the winner of the Reader’s Choice Award of the Richard & Judy Spring List. Liz was honoured to win the Irish Tatler Woman of the Year award in Literature in October 2017 and her third novel, Skin Deep will be published by Penguin books in the UK and Ireland in Spring 2018
My favourite book this year is Centaur by Declan Murphy and Ami Rao. There has never been a book quite like this one. It tells the true story of a jockey who suffers a horrific fall and suffers a massive brain injury. Everyone assumed he had died at the track, his obituary was written and then he miraculously wakes up. I can’t do it justice in a paragraph but his comeback from this situation and the impact it has upon the people around him will impact upon you. I think about the story once a week minimum. If you are looking for something hopeful in a year of misery, this is a fantastic book to buy.
Since moving to London and producing the iTunes award winning, multimillion downloaded podcast, An Irishman Abroad, Jarlath Regan has become one of the most talked about names in comedy. He is about to return to Dublin to make his long-awaited Vicar Street debut on January 12th, 2018 where his new show Organ Freeman sees Jarlath wring comic glory out of the chaos of the last 12 months and how being asked to donate a kidney to his brother forced him to reassess everything. From the absurdity of modern manliness to the bizarre world of self-promotion through selfies, when asked to do the most generous thing possible, Jarlath has to question it all in his own uniquely funny way… Not to be missed!
Two novels set on Irish islands that I adored this year were Bernie McGill’s The Watch House and Lisa Carey’s The Stolen Child. Both books are enviously well written, otherworldly, and gripping.
Mary Ruefle’s hybrid collection My Private Property is maybe prose poetry, maybe flash fiction. Whatever the book is, she’s my new favourite writer – witty, wise and laconic work. Fabulous stuff.
Nuala O’Connor was born in Dublin, she lives in East Galway. Her fifth short story collection Joyride to Jupiter was published by New Island in 2017; her story ‘Consolata‘ from that collection was shortlisted for Short Story of the Year at the 2017 Irish Book Awards. Nuala’s third novel, Miss Emily, about the poet Emily Dickinson and her Irish maid was shortlisted for the Eason Book Club Novel of the Year 2015 and longlisted for the 2017 International DUBLIN Literary Award. Nuala’s fourth novel, Becoming Belle, will be published in 2018. www.nualaoconnor.com
I had only ever read Michael Harding in the Irish Times and saw him on The Late Late Show a couple of times but I found his older pensive philosophical Irish man demeanor endearing. So much so that when I was about to go on holiday I picked up his book Talking to Strangers (and other ways of being human) in the airport. Michael Harding has a way of writing the most simple sentence and making it beautiful. For the first time, I really got a sense of the male psyche and why Irish men tend to do the things they do. It was also fascinating to hear of his experience of playing The Bull McCabe in a production of The Field and also the effect of playing that particular character had on him. I loved it so much, I have his next book On Tuesday’s I’m a buddhist on my Christmas reading list!
Ciara King is one half of RTE 2FM duo Chris & Ciara and author of Ciara’s Diary: Sense and Shiftability. She’s also a regular on TV3’s The Six O’ Clock show and contributes to entertainment.ie.
It’s been a bumper year for books; I read so many gems, but the best, for me, has to be John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies. Not only is this an important book – a kind of state of the nation look at the way life has changed for Ireland’s gay community, but it shows a welcome advancement in Boyne’s writing. He has developed a wonderfully satirical style, reminiscent of early Evelyn Waugh; think Decline and Fall and Scoop. I’ve always loved Boyne’s writing, and this one secures his place in Ireland’s literary canon.
A Journalist and Ghostwriter, Sue is the co-author of two recent number one bestsellers: Whispering Hope, the True Story of the Magdalene Women, (Orion 2015,) and An Act of Love with Marie Fleming, recounting Marie’s extraordinary life, and fight for the right to die with dignity (Hachette Ireland, 2014) She has worked on four other books as a ghost writer, two, for Penguin Ireland, were best sellers. She is the author of Keys to the Cage (New Island, 2010) As a journalist, Sue has written for The Irish Times, the Irish Independent, the Irish Examiner, The Evening Herald, Image Magazine, and numerous other publications.
My favourite book of the year was a novel, Tin Man by Sarah Winman. A beautiful story about friendship, love, loss and finding yourself. It’s simply written with no clever tricks or twists but Winman’s talent as a writer is to let her characters reveal themselves through their words and actions. It made me cry on the train, but that’s the sign of a powerful book.
Bob Johnston is the owner of The Gutter Bookshops in Temple Bar and Dalkey, and co-host of HeadStuff’s Bookish podcast. When he’s not selling books or talking about them, he’s reading them.
Margaret Bonass Madden
I have thought long and hard about what were my top reads of 2017 and have taken all genres into consideration. At the time of posting, I have read 133 books and needed to whittle this list right back to basics: which books had the biggest effect on me and why? I have picked two character-driven novels, both of which I have bought multiple copies of, as gifts, and that I will definitely re-read. These are The Underground Railroad by Coleson Whitehead and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.
The Underground Railroad deservedly won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, with Whitehead’s exquisite storytelling drawing comparison to that of Toni Morrison. It is the beautiful yet devastating story of Cora and Caesar, two former-slaves, fleeing their Georgia plantation and using the Underground Railroad to reach the North. By blending fact with fiction, Whitehead has re-visited the slave narrative and history that has been whitewashed throughout the last century. This is a powerful and poignant read that refuses to leave my mind. A modern masterpiece.
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was one of the most talked-about popular fiction books of the year, and rightly so. It is a wonderfully warm and astute examination of loneliness and insecurity but told with humour. Eleanor is a quirky character, socially awkward and defined by her routines. A chance encounter prompts her to adjust her outlook, often with hilarious consequences. Fans of Graeme Simsion’s The Rosie Project will fall in love with Eleanor and find themselves wanting to talk to other readers who have also fallen under her spell.
Two diverse reads, from different genres, but both with lingering after effects. Get thee to your local bookshop. You won’t be sorry.
Margaret Madden is a book blogger/reviewer at BleachHouseLibrary.ie and contributor to writing.ie, The Sunday Independent, Irish Times Books and nudgebook.com amongst other publications. She can be found, ignoring real life in favour of fiction, on twitter @margaretbmadden. She is also the other co-host of the HeadStuff Bookish podcast!
2017 has been quite the year for me when it comes to getting out of my comfort zone with reading, thanks to two things- The Rick O Shea Book Club (the largest online book club in Ireland and my spiritual home) and the surrounds of the beautiful Market Place Theatre in Armagh where I spent a week as a bursary student in the John Hewitt Summer School – (if you haven’t heard of it, go google it)
In true HeadStuff fashion, I’m sitting here with a gun to my head and I still can’t choose my favourite books of 2017. There are too many to mention. The Hearts Invisible Furies (John Boyne), Room Little Darker (June Caldwell), and Harvesting by Lisa Harding left me gasping for breath, reaching for the bedside lamp in the middle of the night and crying into my cornflakes.
Until my jaunt in Armagh in July, the reading of poetry for pleasure was something I avoided- battle scarred from my school days where the words and themes of the greatest poets of all time were hacked at, dissected and analysed to within an inch of their lives. And then it all changed. I sat in a room and listened to a number of incredible poets read their work and in that moment a love for the power of poetry was ignited in me. Nessa O’ Mahoney, Liz Lochhead, Denise Reilly and Katie Donovan blew me away.
For that reason, I had to add Off Duty by Katie Donovan to my books of the year. I’m cheating as it was originally published in 2016 but I didn’t find it until a few months ago!
The book is a collection of poems reflecting the heartbreak of the loss of her husband and the devastating impact of that illness and loss on her relationships to her young children, her extended family and partner. She is unflinching about what she records, and her experiences is communicated clearly in every poem in the book. It’s an incredible collection and I felt honoured to hear her read from it.
And finally, a book that was published in 2017 and serves as a comfort blanket to me.
The synopsis for this little beauty states: ‘milk and honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. It is about the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. It is split into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose, deals with a different pain, heals a different heartache. milk and honey takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look.’
Cat Hogan is fiction author from Wexford, Ireland. Her first award nominated novel ‘They All Fall Down’ was released in 2016. Her second novel, ‘There Was A Crooked Man’, was released in September 2017 and was shortlisted for The Irish Independent Crime Fiction Novel of the Year.
Her third novel, that which shall remain nameless for now, will be released in Summer 2018.
Well certainly a highlight of my book year was Motherfoclóir which has been a great book to dip in/out of on my short commute every day. I’ve really enjoyed reading a book that’s about a living language that I’m more familiar with – rather than a educational text. This year has been a difficult one for me and in times of sadness I’ve found myself picking up books that I loved in my childhood. No matter what the topic, I’ve discovered that wrapping myself in their fantasy evokes a feeling of nostalgia and home. The solace that reading Tolkien brings is something I welcome at the moment.
Catriona Redmond is a food writer. She also grows food and rears pigs. She describes her life as very like ‘The Good Life’ but with pigs and kids not goats… She blogs at Wholesome Ireland and her first book ‘Wholesome’ was published by Mercier in 2014.
2017 has been a truly outstanding year for the Irish short story. A few collections that spring immediately to mind: Helena Mulkern’s Ferenji, based on her experiences as a UN refugee agency worker, John MacKenna’s blistering take on the lives of the twelve apostles in the glorious Once we sang like other men, Martin Malone’s dark and despairing This Cruel Station; Kelly Creighton’s debut collection, the aptly named Bank Holiday Hurricane and of course some wonderful anthologies Female Lines (ed. Dawn Miranda Sherratt-Bado) and I’m sneaking in the October 2016 release of Sinead Gleeson’s (ed.) canon-defining The Glass Shore. And who could forget June Caldwell’s unique and highly acclaimed Room Little Darker ?
Rob Doyle’s This is the Ritual, is my choice of the year. Doyle burst onto the stage with his debut novel Here are the Young Men, and the writing in his story collection This is the Ritual is every bit as savage, as bleak and as unflinching as in the novel.
The collection (Jan 2017, Bloomsbury) takes a brave and very experimental look at the madness of the act of writing; the pointless and egotistical hurling of one’s words against the sheer cliffs of disinterested posterity and the relentless march of the foreseen end of culture and civilisation.
From the seedy underworld of 1980s Berlin to the smoking deck of the Ulysses fast ferry from Holyhead to Dublin, the settings could be said to be dystopian and they are inhabited by a motley crew of dysfunctional novelists, psychiatrically dubious avant-garde essayists and bilious Joyce-haters.
I have no formal English literature training and I’m not going to pretend I understand every one of the sprinkling of in-jokes and slant, glancing allusions to the colossuses of the Irish canon, but that didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the stories at all.
I couldn’t help laughing at this passage between “two jaded ex-revolutionary” writers: “Pessimistic novelists, a veritable production line of them. What are they trying to do, overthrow our civilisation?”… “One of them has made a million since last February.”
Oh yes, bring it on!! Rob Doyle deserves a million for this collection, and I’m happy to share the word (and the million, needless to say, should the need arise.)
Orla McAlinden is a Pushcart Prize nominee, the Cecil Day Lewis emerging writer 2016, and winner of the BGEIBA Irish Short Story of the Year award. Her debut collection The Accidental Wife won the 2014 Eludia Award from Sowilo Press in Philadelphia, and was published in July 2016. Orla is preparing to publish her first novel The Flight of the Wren, and a companion volume to The Accidental Wife. Her most recent publication can be read at http://humag.co/prose/a-real-woman
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine…and utterly brilliant. Gail Honeyman has created a beautiful character out of the odd person in your office (If you’re thinking, ‘But there aren’t any odd people in my office?’ then I’m afraid it’s you.)
Eleanor often doesn’t understand people and the things they do, which makes her virginal attempts to get the man she is fixated on both hilarious and tragic. The funniest scenes are where she subjects herself to women’s beauty regimes for the first time in her life, and you’ll often find yourself laughing along in agreement with her alien-eye view of how absurd everything is. However, I defy you not to shed a tear at the scene where she says, ‘Thank you for making me shiny.’
You see, Eleanor is also scarred on one side of her face. As the story progresses you find out that she is just as emotionally scarred (which I suspect may have exacerbated her innate autistic traits, although autism is never mentioned.)
Most of all, though, this book is a paean to everyday kindnesses, and even if you find Eleanor too contrary to love at times, you will certainly fall for the lovely people who come into her life and help bring out the best in her.
Reese Witherspoon is reportedly making a movie of this book, so read it before you see it.
Aidan Comerford is an author and former musical comedian (now in recovery.) His book ‘Corn Flakes for Dinner – a heartbreaking comedy about family life’ is published by Gill Books and is out now.
Howya lads, let me kick off with a cliché: my favourite Irish lit novel of the year was Sally Rooney’s fiercely clever Conversations With Friends. I’ve read it twice so far and I still utterly adore it, even though I have slight cringe at citing a title so widely approved-of. #literaryhipsteryo
Matt Haig’s How To Stop Time also charmed the hell out of me with its depiction of love and life from the point of view of a slowly-aging-individual, while Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine lives up to the hype and is an enchanting, immersive account of a ‘difficult woman’.
Hadley Freeman’s Life Moves Pretty Fast, an interrogation of 80s movies, offered up much food for thought, while Sara Eckel’s It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single was a friend’s recommendation I shared widely, a title that dismantles tiresome clichés around single women.
Poetry-wise I adored Erin Fornoff’s Hymn to the Reckless, which is both politically powerful and artistically beautiful. It’s one of those books you want everyone ever to buy.
Claire Hennessy is a writer, editor and creative writing facilitator. Her most recent YA novel is Like Other Girls (Hot Key Books) & she also has a story in The Broken Spiral (stories in aid of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre).
Any year that has a new Sinead Morrissey collection is one to savour. Morrissey’s much anticipated new volume, On Balance (Carcanet 2017), contains poems with a dazzling array of themes, styles and wonderfully wrought forms. The title poem is a bravura response to Philip Larkin’s infamous prayer for Martin Amis’s daughter in his poem ‘Born Yesterday’ , where he wishes ‘may you be ordinary; / Have, like other women, /An average of talents’. Morrissey’s spirit reply evoked a ‘yesss!!!’ when I first read it: “I wouldn’t let you near /my brilliant daughter – /so far, in fact, from dull, / that radiant, incandescent / are as shadows on the landscape after staring at the sun.’ Still only 45, Morrissey has staked her claim as the leading poet of her generation. I can’t wait to see what she produces next.
Carcanet stable-mate Tara Bergin also wows with her second collection, The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx, which was shortlisted for the 2017 Forward Prize for a first collection. Bergin’s hallmark, also visible in her first collection This is Yarrow, is to be original in subject matter, linguistically inventive and intellectually challenging.
Irish publisher Arlen House ends the year with a quadruple publication of four leading Ulster women: Maureen Boyle, Maria McManus, Ruth Carr and Medbh McGuckian. Earlier this year, Arlen published what was probably my favourite book of the year: Geraldine Mitchell’s beautiful Mountains for Breakfast, a glorious evocation of Mayo’s landscape as the backdrop to a moving exploration of grief and loss.
Oh yes. You may have noticed the lack of gender balance in this 2017 poetry round-up. Them’s the breaks.
Nessa O’Mahony has published four books of poetry – Bar Talk (1999), Trapping a Ghost (2005), In Sight of Home (2009) and Her Father’s Daughter (2014). She is co-editor with Dr. Siobhán Campbell of Eavan Boland: Inside History (Arlen House 2016) and of Metamorphic 21st Century Poets Respond to Ovid with Paul Munden (Recent Work Press 2017). She produces the regular literary podcast, The Attic Sessions, with her husband, Peter Salisbury.http://theatticsessions.tv/the-attic-sessions-20-a-seasonal-reading-at-the-gutter-bookshop/
2017 was a vintage year for books for me – and it’s very hard to choose just one or two that stood out in an exceptional market.
But two did more than others.
The first was The Break by Marian Keyes. Told with wit and humour this is a story of a marriage in trouble and of people trying to redefine themselves as life moves on. It made me laugh out loud but it also made me cry because it was written, in places, with such sheer honesty and rawness than I could very much relate to the words on the page.
It was a huge comforting hug of a book that made me think a lot about a lot of things but ultimately which left me feeling uplifted and hopeful.
The other big title of the year for me was Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. I admit, because there was so much hype around this book I almost didn’t read it. I was so scared it wouldn’t live up to its reputation but, oh my God, it blew me away. I have never read anything like it before and I doubt I will again but it is simply the most gorgeous and perfect book about the human condition you are ever likely to read and it has left very strong footprints in my heart.
Honorary mentions for books which made my year have to go to The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman, The Doll House by Phoebe Morgan, Final Girls by Riley Sager & The One by John Marrs.
Claire Allan is an author, former journalist and Twitter addict from Derry, N. Ireland. She has written 8 bestselling books with Poolbeg Press but in 2018 will unleash her dark side by releasing her first thriller, Her Name Was Rose, with Avon in June. She can be found on Twitter at @claireallan and reviews books for fun at www.claireallan.com
A mixed-fortune year for me, reading proved a much-needed distraction and I discovered some outstanding novels from debut and established authors.
Due to a few personal circumstances, I have been kindly given a bit of a dispensation in my selection – I read it this year but technically it came out in 2016. My runner-up prize for the previous year was from Liz Nugent and right now she takes the gold with Lying In Wait. A story so good that it kept me sane – during a week of sleepless nights and industrial-strength antibiotics. In Lying In Wait, a prostitute’s body lies buried in the flowerbed of a Dublin Georgian pile, the home of Justice George Fitzsimons. When FitzSimons dies of a guilt-induced heart attack, his son Laurence discovers a gruesome crime and the subsequent cover up by his mother Lydia. While investigating, Laurence befriends and soon falls in love with the victim’s sister Karen and is soon battling with his conscience, unable to choose between protecting his increasingly unhinged mother and ending Karen‘s obsessive search for her sister.
Liz Nugent’s writing gets better and better, with an unparalleled ability to set up an intriguing premise, surgically follow and break rules of storytelling and dissect the psyches of her characters. She creates a gothic masterpiece that illustrate the extremes of family dysfunction and shows that murder might not be the worst sin.
Lying In Wait is a ten-out-of-ten triumph that’s probably due a reread in 2018 (while patiently waiting for Liz’s next offering).
In the meantime, next on my list is Cat Hogan’s There was a Crooked Man which I’ve heard is great. It’ll be next year by the time I get to it though so you might find it on 2018’s list!
Novelist, screenwriter and film producer Paul FitzSimons’s feature film The Gift was released to cinemas around Ireland and is now available on Amazon Prime. Paul’s debut novel Burning Matches will be launched in early 2018. Paul is currently writing the feature Complicit, to go into production in 2018, and developing a new novel series
Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend- This debut from an exciting new Australian author is the perfect remedy for any young fantasy fan. Mixing an out of this world adventure and spectacular characters, this book threw itself to the top of my list for the top books for 2017!
Lorraine Levis is a children’s bookseller and buyer for Dubray Books.
My favourite book of 2017 has to be I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice. It is one of the most moving memoirs I have ever read. Ruth Fitzmaurice writes so honestly and vividly about her family’s life that you will think about the Fitzmaurice’s long after you have turned the final page. It is beautifully written with clever descriptions and vivid imagery that will take your breath away.
Writing to the background noise of her husband Simon’s medical machines, twenty four hour carers and five children, Ruth candidly recounts her life as she navigates various different themes including grief, friendship and love and the strength she has in the face of adversity.
Ruth’s other tribe are a group of like-minded women who jokingly call themselves the Tragic Wives Swimming Club who gather regularly at Ladies Cove in Greystones and immerse themselves and their problems into the freezing Irish Sea. Swimming in the turbulent waters just off the cove is just one of the coping mechanisms Ruth uses to help face the mounting challenges that she, her husband and family faced. I Found My Tribe is an uplifting powerful memoir that will make you laugh and cry in equal measures. I urge everyone to read it.
Adele O’ Neill’s bestselling debut, Brothers and Sisters was published by Head of Zeus – Aria in July 2017, her second book, Behind Closed Doors is due for release on March 1st 2018. She also writes a book review column for The Wicklow People, part of the Independent News Group. She lives in Arklow, County Wicklow with her husband and two teenage daughters.
Kill All Normies is an indispensable account of the ever-raging online culture wars. It offers a surprisingly entertaining analysis of the development of the weird and not so wonderful virtual subcultures of Left and Right. It is important not least because these cultures are not so sub anymore – they are vying to dominate mainstream media and politics. Don’t be fooled by its size – although it doesn’t aim to be comprehensive (it’s a polemic, not an encyclopedia), pound for pound it is by far the best treatment of the bewildering shit-storms that dominated Twitter, Tumblr, 4chan and other dark corners of the virtual world over the past few years. While it gained the author international recognition, it also gained her an equal amount of ire and abuse. But in this writer’s humble opinion, she’s pissing off the right people, and has cemented her position as the foremost authority on the subject matter.
Frankie Gaffney came of age in Dublin’s North Inner City. His father spent time in prison, and he was himself immersed in the city’s underworld. In his mid-twenties he left all this behind and went to Trinity College Dublin, where he studied English Literature. He has since been awarded the Ussher Fellowship to conduct literary research there and is currently completing his Phd. His first novel Dublin Seven is informed both by the milieu in which he grew up, and his formal study of great literature.