Meet the new wave of Irish literary novelists
Irish crime and thriller writers have made quite a mark in recent years. Now it’s the turn of a new wave of Irish literary novelists. Five debut writers introduce their books
Liz Nugent: ‘I seem to find screwed-up, sociopathic male characters intriguing.’ Photograph: Aidan Crawley
Rob Doyle: ‘It’s a novel about growing up in Dublin – and the dark side of all that.’ Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Léan Cullinan: ‘I was interested in looking at the first generation to grow up in an Ireland that is not dominated by the violence of the 20th century.’ Photograph: Alan Betson
Daniel Seery: ‘I always wanted to write a piece with a character who was lonely and on the fringes of society’
Darragh McKeon: ‘It’s quite a Greek story, in that fates are conspiring against people’
All That Is Solid Melts into Air
Set in a crumbling Soviet Union at the time of the Chernobyl disaster, All That Is Solid Melts into Air follows a group of characters – a doctor, a piano prodigy, a journalist who has been silenced – as they try to cope with the fallout. Darragh McKeon lives in New York.
What made you choose this particular story? I grew up in Tullamore, Co Offaly, and Adi Roche’s Chernobyl International brought children from that region to Tullamore for recuperation. They were among the first group of outsiders I had ever encountered, and I was just fascinated. Through them, people would talk about the meltdown. Also, Adi Roche and Ali Hewson made a TV documentary in which they talked to some of the farmers who had refused to leave the Chernobyl area. I’m from a farming background, and I got that immediately: the relationship with the land. That was probably the key element when I sat down to write.
Among other influences on your work – Colum McCann, Neil Jordan, Michael Ondaatje – you cite the Russian novelist Andrei Makine. Why? I’ve just come to him in the past three years – it’s hard to find good contemporary Russian novelists. He’s very lyrical but highly realist as well. It’s a beautiful crossover, and quite rare. He’s from Siberia, and there’s something about the sweep of his language that I think comes from his sense of place.
Your book is many things: a love story, a study of a country on the point of collapse, a portrait of everyday heroism. How would you describe it yourself? I think it’s quite a Greek story in that fates are conspiring against people so they have little or no influence on what’s going on. Like any novelist I tried to put myself in the characters’ minds and think, “How would I go about my day-to-day life in this situation?”
Are you writing another novel now? Yes. I’m starting a novel set in South America. That’s all I can say.
Penguin Ireland, March
“I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her,” is the opening sentence of this study in deception and psychopathology. Oliver Ryan’s attack on his wife, Alice, has put her into a coma. The novel uses a number of narrators, all of whom try to explain – to themselves, and to the reader – an extraordinary act of savagery.
What made you choose this particular story? I seem to find screwed-up, sociopathic male characters intriguing. I was very taken by John Banville’s Freddie, Sebastian Faulks’s Engelby and, on TV, Tony Soprano and Walter White from Breaking Bad. Not in real life, I hasten to add: my husband is an absolute saint.
The book is partly set in France. Have you really spent time in a sprawling chateau? In 2005 my mum rented a chateau near Bordeaux in France and invited all of us – children, partners, husbands, boyfriends, grandchildren – to stay for a week. That’s the place I describe in the book.
How do you feel about your sociopathic central character? Everyone who has read the book talks about how horrible Oliver is - but I quite like him. I know readers will hate him, but I hope they will also understand him. Maybe even find some empathy with him.
Does your novel fit into a particular genre? I didn’t write a genre. I wrote the kind of book that I like to read. I don’t actually read crime novels or thrillers, so I didn’t think of it as a crime novel. I keep saying to people, ‘But did you not find it funny?’ Sociopathic. That’s my genre, if I have one. I’m not sure that I do.
Are you writing another novel now? I’m actually, right at the moment, in 1980, murdering a prostitute.