Miriam O’Callaghan's books of the year
Presenter of Prime Time on RTÉ One and Sunday with Miriam on RTÉ Radio 1
I have deliberately excluded all Irish writers, as I would find that too difficult a choice. One of my favourite books this year is The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (Bloomsbury) – known for her memoir Eat Pray Love, which divided readers. This is a completely different departure – and a triumph.
The protagonist, Alma Whittaker, a fictional 19th-century botanist, becomes fascinated with the study of mosses but is also constantly seeking companionship, love and knowledge.
Alma represents all the forgotten women of science whose work was sucked up by male scientists. A great read.
I also got to interview Elizabeth Gilbert on radio recently, and she was as interesting as I hoped she would be.
Another fine book focused on the lives of women is The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed (Simon & Schuster). Set in northwest Somalia in 1987-88, ust as that country is on the brink of civil war, the three central characters – all female – are an ageing widow, a refugee who has taken to the streets, and a young soldier.
The young writer, born in Somalia but who fled with her family when she was just four, succeeds in capturing vividly the historical context of the time.
Mohamed was recently selected as one of Granta’s best young British novelists and won a Betty Trask Award.