Six of the best contemporary novels set in Ireland
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When All is Said, Anne Griffin
Maurice Hannigan is 84 years old, and he's sitting alone at a hotel bar in County Meath. Over the course of the night, he orders five drinks and toasts to the five people who have made the most impact on his life. We follow Maurice from a young boy growing up in County Meath to falling in love with a girl from Donegal. What follows is an utterly heartbreaking but life-affirming tale of love and loss. Warning: This one will make you cry like a baby.
Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín
Despite its title, a big part of Brooklyn takes place in Ireland. Eilis Lacey is a young woman living with her mother and older sister in Ireland, but she dreams of bigger things. Like many young Irish women in the 1950's Eilis emigrates to New York, where she falls in love with Brooklyn native Tony. Suddenly Eilis receives some devastating news which means she must return to Ireland, leaving her life in Brooklyn behind. Eilis is left with a choice between her heart and her home, who will she choose?
Colm Tóibín - Image Credit: Chris Boland
Where Rainbows End, by Cecelia Ahern
Another tearjerker, Where Rainbows End is the story of Rosie Dunne and Alex Stewart, two childhood friends from Dublin. There's always been a feeling that the two are more than friends, but it's a case of wrong place wrong time. Alex moves to Boston to start his medical career at Harvard University, but circumstances mean that Rosie has to stay in Dublin. Set over the course of decades, the book is written entirely in letters, newspaper articles and other forms of correspondence between the pair. If the plot sounds familiar, it's because it was adapted into the 2014 film Love, Rosie starring Sam Claflin and Lily Collins, but spoiler alert: the book is better.
Normal People, by Sally RooneyOne of our books of 2018, Normal People is the story of Marianne and Connell. Living in a small Irish town, Connell is one of the most popular boys at school, and Marianne is quite the opposite – a rich loner who lives in the elusive big White House. Connell’s mother is Marianne’s cleaner and one chance conversation between the two changes the course of their lives forever. The story follows the two characters for four years as their lives change and intertwine.
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County Wexford, Ireland - Image Credit: Michal Osmenda, via Wikimedia Commons
Milkman, by Anna BurnsThe surprise Man Booker prize winner is set in Northern Ireland during the troubles. Unlike the other books on this list, Milkman doesn’t paint Ireland in an idyllic way but that’s what makes it so real. The truth of Northern Ireland during that time period wasn’t pretty, and Milkman follows an 18-year-old girl as she struggles with the unwanted attention of an older man. Despite its dark subject matter, it still manages to sneak in some humour and it’s a thoroughly good read.
The Trick to Time, by Kit De WaalAlthough The Trick to Time is set in Birmingham it follows an Irish character, Mona MacNaughton, and flashes back to her childhood growing up in County Wexford. In the present day, Mona is 60 years old, but the story is told heavily through flashbacks. ‘If you lost the love of your life, what would you do to live again?’ is written on the front of the book, and as a tale that takes place between Irish people living in Birmingham during the 1970s, you can imagine where the story goes. It’s a truly devastating read but is also uplifting in a quiet and hopeful way. Despite not being wholly set in Ireland, The Trick to Time is Irish to its very core and talks about Ireland with an adoration that will bring even bring nostalgia and longing to those who have never visited. It’s impossible to not fall in love with Mona and her story.