By Mia Levitin
Ireland has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to writers of both fiction and nonfiction. Is it its deep literary history? Funding of the arts? Something in the water, or the Guinness?
Among my favourite Irish writers today is Nicole Flattery. The stories in her debut collection, Show Them a Good Time, are reminiscent of the work of Lorrie Moore, with a contemporary twist. Flattery writes about "young women in self-imposed exile, searching for meaning that they might never find". Beneath the dark humour, her stories reveal the absurdity, and precarity, of modern life.
I eagerly await the release of her novel, Nothing Special, from Bloomsbury next year.
Mia Levitin is a critic
By John Self
Anne Enright would hate to be called a national treasure, but sorry – there it is. For three decades she's been giving us fiction of richness, scope and variety. From her first novel, The Wig My Father Wore, her motifs were visible: the family (The Gathering, The Green Road), sex and power (The Forgotten Waltz) and fantastical flights of imagination (The Pleasure of Eliza Lynch). But she also excels at being a public author, from her writing about motherhood (Making Babies) to her role as laureate for Irish fiction. Oh, and she's a great novelist who's also a great critic, the first I turned to for thoughts on Martin Amis's essays or Sally Rooney's new novel. I was introduced to her once at a literary do and was too awestruck to speak. What can you say to the person who already has all the best words?
John Self is a critic
By Alex Clark
Eimear McBride's debut novel, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, was like a detonation when, after years of the writer trying to get it published, it finally appeared, in 2013. Broken-down prose that suggested a kinship with Beckett, Joyce and Woolf took readers into the heart of painful intimate relationships, not least between a woman and her body. It's territory that McBride has repeatedly charted in her subsequent novels, The Lesser Bohemians and Strange Hotel, and that she has recently probed in her essay Something Out of Place. Shame, disgust, desire and trauma stalk through her work, marking her out as a writer of rare ambition and attention.
Alex Clark is a critic
By Sarah Gilmartin
There are many things I love about Claire Keegan's writing. Her way with place and atmosphere, her perfectly structured stories, the fullness and generosity of the openings that narrow as time moves on and the options available to her characters seem to dwindle, bringing them (and us) to ends that are at once surprising and fated. Like many readers, I first came to Keegan through Foster, a story published in the New Yorker, which she subsequently developed into a novel. It has, to my mind, one of the most evocative openings in contemporary Irish fiction: "Early on a Sunday, after first Mass in Clonegal, my father, instead of taking me home, drives deep into Wexford toward the coast, where my mother's people came from. It is a hot August day, bright, with patches of shade and greenish sudden light along the road. We pass through the village of Shillelagh, where my father lost our red shorthorn in a game of forty-five, and on past the mart in Carnew, where the man who won her sold her not long afterward." Hope, loss, survival in rural Ireland, as seen through the eyes of a child. All Keegan's writing, including her long-awaited new novel, Small Things Like These, has this same immersive, deeply considered quality.
Sarah Gilmartin is a critic. Her debut novel, Dinner Party: A Tragedy is out this month
By Martin Doyle
Danielle McLaughlin is arguably the best Irish short-story writer to emerge since Kevin Barry. As Anne Enright said of her collection Dinosaurs on Other Planets, published by Stinging Fly in 2014: "This is not a debut in the usual sense: a promise of greater things to come. There is no need to ask what Danielle McLaughlin will do next, she has done it already."
Having won the £30,000 Sunday Times Short Story Award and the $165,000 Windham Campbell Award in 2019, she last year published her first novel, The Art of Falling, an exceptional work whose text has such depth it could have been sent to a 3D printer. Her protagonist Nessa's description of the light by the sea in west Cork as not soft but "glorious, razor-sharp and unsparing" is a perfect description of McLaughlin's own writing.
Martin Doyle is Books Editor of The Irish Times
Christine Dwyer Hickey
By Edel Coffey
Christine Dwyer Hickey has been publishing works of deep emotional intensity and psychological authenticity for 25 years. She was born in Dublin, and her Dublin-set novels, Tatty, which was chosen as Unesco's Dublin One City One book, and The Cold Eye of Heaven, revel in memorialising a fading Dublin vernacular, while her most recent novel, The Narrow Land, is a fictionalised study of the marriage of the artist Edward Hopper. Dwyer Hickey's novels always attempt to make sense of individual identity, in the context of how we are shaped both by our own personal stories and by the larger events of history.
Edel Coffey is a critic. Her debut novel, Breaking Point, will be published in January
Doireann Ní Ghríofa
By Seán Hewitt
Readers will likely be familiar with Doireann Ní Ghríofa's genre-bending prose work A Ghost in the Throat (Tramp, 2020). From one of the brightest stars in Irish writing, it is an exhilarating book, and rightly found itself in receipt of countless awards and admirers. I'd also recommend her latest poetry collection, To Star the Dark (Dedalus, 2021), and the bilingual Irish/English collection Lies (Dedalus, 2018). My sense, reading her work, is of a mythic, dark imagination coexisting with ordinary life. Ní Ghríofa is a thrilling and vulnerable and fiery writer. Above all, she leaves the reader's world a more enchanted and enchanting place.
Seán Hewitt is a poet, critic and the author of Tongues of Fire and JM Synge: Nature, Politics, Modernism
By Kevin Power
In her four novels so far – All Summer (2003), Tenderwire (2006), All Names Have Been Changed (2009) and The Devil I Know (2012) – Claire Kilroy has proven herself a gifted prose stylist, but not only that: she is also a profound critic of morals, art, manners. The Devil I Know is, for me, the definitive novel of the boom years: bitter, blackly funny, gorgeously written. I go back to her books all the time, just to reread her perfectly engineered paragraphs, which could – indeed should – be taught in writing classes the world over.
Kevin Power's latest novel is White City
By Niamh Donnelly
You don't need me to tell you to read Marian Keyes. You've read her. Even people who don't care for reading read Marian Keyes. Even people who claim not to have read Marian Keyes have read Marian Keyes. You've read her on a tram, on a beach, on a 10-minute break at work.
I can't recall "discovering" Marian Keyes, because I seem always to have known her. I probably read her far too young, clandestinely, poring over her ridey-men, her authentic protagonists, her Walsh-family antics. And, like all my friends, I feel that she is mine and no one else's.
What is it about the way she writes? You could pull one of her books out at a party, read from a random page and have the room laughing and crying in seconds. I've just opened Rachel's Holiday, and the first passage made me want to take the day off and reread the whole thing.
"They said I was a drug addict," it goes. "I found that hard to come to terms with – I was a middle-class, convent-educated girl whose drug use was strictly recreational. And surely drug addicts were thinner?"
Tell me you don't want more. There's a sequel coming in February, Again, Rachel. We've waited 24 years. What's another few months?
Niamh Donnelly is a critic
By Neil Hegarty
Deirdre Madden's novels speak quietly to their readers, offering subtle insights into characters' thoughts and experiences in ways that forge connectedness. Madden's fifth novel, One by One in the Darkness, for me encapsulates the enduring value of her writing. The book focuses on one family's lived experience of the Troubles, capturing the steady background thrum of anxiety that marked all lives in that place and at that time. Now, as Northern Ireland is urged by the British government to draw a line under – or through – the past, Madden's writing reminds us that healing can come only through exploration and acknowledgment of trauma.
Neil Hegarty's latest work is The Jewel
By John Boyne
From the start, Cecelia Ahern has been underestimated. Her surname, her youth, and the high-concept romantic novels of her early career defined a presence immediately ripe for denigration. Misogyny and envy were the hallmarks of interviews conducted by middle-aged men, annoyed that a 21-year-old girl did not include more sex scenes in her books. Two decades on, Ahern, as committed a novelist as I know, has had the last laugh. In The Marble Collector, she peels back the layers of a complicated father-daughter relationship with a keen eye for family secrets. Lyrebird combines mysticism, solitude and the natural world with poetic elegance. But it's the short story collection Roar that's her greatest triumph. Humour, righteous anger and staunch feminism underlie 30 stories of 30 very different women. It's the most fearless and original collection by an Irish writer in decades.
John Boyne's latest novel is The Echo Chamber
By Claire Hennessy
Deirdre Sullivan, who was born in Galway, has written plays, short fiction and poetry but is best known for her young-adult fiction, including award-winning female-centric retellings of European fairy tales (Tangleweed and Brine) and the Children of Lir (Savage Her Reply). Her empathy for "difficult" girls, whether mythical or contemporary, seeps from every page; the lyrical writing makes it a gentler experience than you might expect. There's also a delightful, snarky, Hiberno-English-embracing humour in much of her work, particularly between the twins Madeline and Catlin in Sullivan's Ballyfran books (Perfectly Preventable Deaths and its upcoming sequel, Precious Catastrophe), where witchcraft and ancient evil can't distract from the banter (rightly so).
Claire Hennessy reviews YA fiction for The Irish Times. Her latest novel is Like Other Girls