Jan Carson wins EU Prize for Literature Ireland 2019 for The Firestarters
Novel set in working-class Protestant Belfast explores seductiveness of lust and violence
Jan Carson: has written a thoroughly captivating and well-paced novel that should hopefully earn her the international recognition she deserves. Photograph: Alan Betson
Jan Carson has won the EU Prize for Literature Ireland 2019 for The Firestarters, her novel about two very different but equally troubled fathers, set against a backdrop of a Belfast once more aflame, told in her unique blend of gritty and maghic realism.
Conor Kostick, president of the Irish jury, said: “This is a sensuous read where sentences tumble unexpectedly from the page. More importantly, this is a book that is rooted in a very particular geographical and social space but which reaches out to the whole of Europe in its engagement with myth and paternal crisis.
“There has been something of a renaissance in literature from Northern Ireland in the last decade, perhaps underpinned by a peace process that has allowed authors to breathe and speak with daringly candid voices. Here, for example, we enter the mind of a sectarian murderer from east Belfast, now reformed. For readers wanting an insight into the lived experience of the people of Belfast, especially those working-class Protestants who have been neglected in literature, they will obtain such from this novel.
“This work, however, is more than a sociology text. It is a novel about seduction. The seductive qualities of lust and violence are epitomised in the Siren, a descendant, or perhaps indeed the same creature, who lured sailors of the Classical era to their doom. And while the Siren’s impact on Jonathan, the retiring doctor, is largely positive (until he is overtaken by his fate), her seductive powers are mirrored in the way that violence and arson exert a fascinating but socially disastrous appeal to Sammy and his son.”
Reviewing The Fire Starters, published by Transworld, for The Irish Times, Sarah Gilmartin called it “a hugely engaging novel about the legacy of violence in Belfast... Carson has written a thoroughly captivating and well-paced novel that should hopefully earn her the international recognition she deserves. A writer with a pleasingly distinctive style, she is also an intelligent and courageous commentator.”
Carson is a writer and community arts facilitator based in Belfast. Her first novel, Malcolm Orange Disappears was published in 2014 to critical acclaim, followed by a short story collection, Children’s Children, in 2016, and a flash fiction anthology, Postcard Stories (2017). She was longlisted for the Sean O’Faolain short story prize in 2015 and won the Harper’s Bazaar short story competition in 2016.