Adult Contemporary Fiction, Part I
It’s 2020, and that means you’re still probably spending more time than you used to at home. What better time to actually start reading more? (You know you always say you’re going to.) The following are a few recommendations for books by some of Ireland’s best contemporary authors to help you make a start!
Content warning: these books deal with a variety of adult topics and are only recommended for our parents and our oldest dancers!
1. In the Woods, Tana French
This one is a bit of a cheat: Tana French is technically an American, but even the Irish have dubbed her the “First Lady of Irish Crime,” so I think it’s appropriate to include this long-standing resident of Ireland. The opening for French’s Dublin Murder Squad series (which don’t have the be read in any particular order) will be perfect for anyone who loves 1) true crime, 2) detective novels, and 3) a slow-burning mystery. The book follows the cynical voice of Rob Ryan as he and his partner, Cassie Maddox (narrator of the next book: The Likeness,) investigate the murder of a 12-year-old girl—a case that very well may be connected to Rob’s childhood. This critically acclaimed book is now a series titled Dublin Murders on Starz.
2. Normal People, Sally Rooney
At only 29-years-old, Sally Rooney is the new wunderkind of adult contemporary literature with her two lauded novels: 2018’s Normal People and 2017’s Conversations with Friends. These are quietly psychological novels, concentrating on all the complexities tangling up the relationships of (in both cases) college students. In Normal People, we follow Connell and Marianne as they try to navigate their unspoken, but deep connection to each other as they grow out of their small town in County Sligo into something like adults while students at Trinity College in Dublin. This startlingly intimate book has been made into a hit limited series on Hulu, with Conversations with Friends optioned and due to start filming any day now.
3. Skippy Dies, Paul Murray
A darkly funny take on the classic boarding school novel, Paul Murray’s second book’s title reveals the crux of the entire plot: the main character, a 14-year-old boy named Skippy, falls down dead in a donut shop in the first few pages. The expansive novel (600 pages!) that follows retraces how we got there and deals with the aftermath of a grieving community in a tragic comedy full of everything from string theory to Celtic mythology, with plenty of biting satire in between. Long-listed for the 2010 Booker Prize, Skippy Dies is based on Paul Murray’s own time at an Irish all-male boarding school and it’s the interplay between that almost gothic setting with an adolescent coming-of-age story that creates its balanced tone and finds the humor in life’s inherent spots of darkness.
4. The Wonder, Emma Donoghue
Emma Donoghue may be best known for Room (which was made into a movie that netted Brie Larson her Best Actress Oscar in 2015,) but The Wonder has a more distinctly Irish feel. Though set in 1859, the book metaphorically tackles something key to even the modern Irish identity: the relationship between the Irish and the English. The Wonder tells the story of an English nurse named Libby Wright who travels to a small Irish town to investigate a medical anomaly…or a miracle. The case is that of eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell who hasn’t had a morsel of food for months, and the interest that springs up around her shapes itself into a slow-moving but deeply felt mystery that transforms all in its reach. Donoghue is a prolific, usually historical writer (this book is based on stories of “fasting girls” from the 16th-20th centuries,) but this is her first book actually set in her home country of Ireland.
5. A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, Eimear McBride
Eimear McBride’s debut novel has won many a prize and with good reason: A Girl is a Half-formed Thing was called “blazingly original” by no less than The New Yorker. While its unique style might make it a more challenging read for some, McBride tells her story through an almost stream-of-consciousness narrative poem that tackles the biggest possible topics: religion, abuse, illness, death, and even love. The reader exists intensely within the head of the unnamed, young, female narrator, brought along as she processes her brother’s childhood cancer and deals with her chaotic family life in an unspecified Irish town. With all the details stripped away, the book becomes somehow more Irish as its almost Joycean lyricism gets you closer to a sense of true identity than anything more neatly delineated—something felt rather than explainable.
This is Volume III of a series, read Volume II about modern Irish slang here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
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