I was a fan of Andrew Meehan’s delightful stories before One Star Awake arrived, so I couldn’t wait to see what he’d do in the longer form. The thriller set-up of an amnesiac protagonist is utterly disrupted in Eva, a woman with some kind of trauma in her past who lacks the tools and touchstones others take for granted (memory, conversation, cleanliness, connection) for a ‘normal’ existence now. She’s not interested in re-creating the life she once had, instead she follows her gut (literarily and metaphorically), running the streets of Paris in pursuit of a lot of French pastry, wine and hot milk, good and bad sex, and Eagleback, the man she believes knows what happened to her.
One Star Awake is a clever and heart-warming story of insatiable desires, unlikely appetites and sudden belly laughs, set in a hot and sticky Paris evoked in brilliant and finely tuned writing. And I found the plotting and pacing faultless. So, it’s a compulsive page-turner perfect for reading over the Holidays, when your fridge or pantry is packed with Christmas treats.
And for the dog-loving Irish history buff in your life, David Blake Knox’s The Curious History of Irish Dogs is a no-brainer.
Aoife Walsh is the Commissioning Editor for New Island.
Sue Rainsford is a prodigiously talented writer, and Follow Me To Ground is a phenomenal debut, a stunning and sinister novella from a genuinely startling new voice. Compared to the work of Angela Carter, Shirley Jackson, Carmen Maria Machado, Max Porter and John Steinbeck, it is an unnerving fairy tale/fever dream that grabs you by the sternum and never lets go. Chilling and poignant, it is a feat of sustained brilliance. I have pushed copies into the hands of countless friends and family.
Following on from the acclaim of Beautiful Pictures of the Lost Homeland, Shift is Mia Gallagher’s first short story collection, 28 years in the making and it’s a magnificent achievement. Exploring the darker side of femininity and gender, Shift is Gallagher at her finest – there is more heart, anger, compassion and hard-earned wisdom here than seems possible for a single collection to contain. As always, Gallagher does not so much break boundaries as dissolve them utterly. It is a joy to surrender oneself to her work.
Hannah Shorten is the Marketing & Publicity Coordinator for New Island.
In the last twenty years, we’ve seen Irish society irrevocably changed by the influx of people from all over the world to live in this country. In my opinion, it has been a positive change, bringing a whole new cast of colours, traditions and languages to the country (along with my own husband and many new friends!). However, the popular concept of ‘Irishness’ has been slow to catch up with the new reality, which is why I was so happy to publish New to the Parish by Sorcha Pollak. Pollak not only examines the international context of migration since EU enlargement in 2004, she tells the human stories of people who have made their home here in the last 14 years. The diversity of experiences and of talents that her interviewees have brought our country is staggering, and I’m delighted to see the new Irish acknowledged and celebrated in this volume.
Another stand-out of this year for me has been Hard Border, by Darach MacDonald, which was recently shortlisted for the Michel Deon Prize for Non-Fiction. As the possibility of a no-deal Brexit and an actual hard border increases daily, this timely book reminds us of what the impact of that could be, not in statistical, but again in very human terms. A native of the border counties, MacDonald is also a walking enthusiast and the book hangs off the framework of a walk along the Ulster Canal. Along the way, he regales us with the history of the border communities, since the introduction of partition nearly a century ago, and looks at the cost of their marginalisation over that time. This is an eye-opening book that will stay with you long after you finish it.
Mariel Deegan is the General Manager of New Island Books.
One of my favourite books that we published this year is People on the Pier by Marian Thérèse Keyes and Betty Stenson because it not only gave me an insight into the area I have been staying in since I arrived in Dublin, but also into the community. It aptly captivates the special place the piers have in people’s hearts and is an interesting as well as entertaining read for locals and tourists alike.
My favourite fiction book was definitely Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford. From the first page the wonderfully eerie world of Ada and Father drew me in and I finished it in one sitting. Ada is a unique and strangely relatable character; her actions make you feel for and condemn her at the same time. Sue Rainsford’s writing is beautiful, lyrical and utterly compelling. She manages to create characters and relationships that stayed with me for a long time after I put the book down. I also really liked the cover designed for this book. For me, it perfectly captures the atmosphere of the book and what it is about.
Theresa Spreckelsen is a Master’s student in British Studies at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin who is currently interning at New Island books.
The fourth instalment of Conor Brady’s Detective Joe Swallow series, In the Dark River, had me right back amid the clang of Dublin’s trams, the dark mire of the river Poddle and bourgeoning days of Dublin’s G-men at the end of the twentieth century. Brady’s knowledge of the force is immense, and his unwavering fidelity to historical accuracy had me immersed from start to finish. Swallow faults, the richness of his inner life, had me drawn to his character as the successes of his career. Hopefully I’ll get to revisit Victorian Dublin, and the G-men of Dublin Castle soon.
The power of Heartland for me for lies in the nuance, subtlety and mastery of the narrative technique, an incredibly complex layering of narrative and perspective, concealed beneath a rollicking country-music barn burner. The book is essentially a palimpsest, where the architecture of ‘Ringo’ Wade’s mind is imposed upon his reality, and the reader’s perception of his entire world. The Hateful Eight-style plot, the signature interspersion of reminiscence, and the channeling of these character’s emotions through the music so essential to them mark this as a book of the year. McCabe is a master.
I have no doubt that William Wall’s Grace’s Day will find its way into the canon of great Irish novels. Wall’s writing draws to mind that of William Trevor, Julian Barnes, and by times, Elizabeth Bowen, weaving the mutable memories of Grace and Jeannie with the reality they have repressed for decades.
The spectre of the Father, the absent enforcer of their way of life, hangs like a shroud over the lives of these women, and the island they eke out an existence on. There are interesting parallels here with another brilliant novel from this year, Sophie Mackintosh’s The Water Cure. The men here, and the imposition of their wills upon Grace, her sisters, and her mother, are masterfully portrayed; manipulative, narcissistic and fatally flawed. As Grace and Jeannie try to move out from under their veil, there is a valuable lesson on how the lives of women have far too often been overwritten, or recast in the light of their male counterparts.
This book is a complex, interwoven narrative journey of the best kind, and a work of art.
Stephen Reid is a sales representative for Brookside Publishing Services.