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Browsers: A fascinating read about the three men behind Ireland’s ‘second revival’

Plus an ‘immersive’ new book by Gail Simmons and a ‘fast-paced, pithy novel with bark-out-loud laughs’ by Fran Littlewood

The Mandarin, the Musician and the Mage by John Fanning (Peter Lang, €49.40)

The author argues that Ireland experienced a “second revival” in 1958-63, similar to the late-19th/early-20th century “Celtic Revival”, which stimulated the country’s economic, social and cultural expansion. Beginning at a time of deep economic and cultural depression, it was spearheaded by “mandarin” TK Whitaker, “musician” Seán Ó Riada and “mage” Thomas Kinsella. Whitaker, the young secretary of the department of finance, masterminded the “First Programme of Economic Expansion”; Ó Riada’s (assistant director of music at Radio Éireann) Mise Éire revolutionised Irish music, and emerging poet Kinsella was private secretary to Whitaker and close friend of Ó Riada. Self-confident, intellectually gifted and internationally minded, they opened Ireland up to the wider world. How much they consciously and consistently co-operated is debatable but the book is no less fascinating for that. Brian Maye

Between the Chalk and The Sea by Gail Simmons (Headline, £22)

Curiosity about red lines on a 14th-century map and a desire to explore the role of pilgrimage in 21st-century life led travel journalist Gail Simmons to walk The Old Way. This rediscovered medieval pilgrimage route traverses chalk uplands parallel to the coastline between Southampton and Canterbury. Simmons imagined Alice of Southwick, a 14th-century merchant’s wife, as her companion on this 250-mile adventure, a choice which allowed her to “travel vertically, delving deep into the landscape, journeying through time rather than space”. We too are compelled to slow down while reading this immersive blend of travelogue, memoir, history and folklore, feeling the ancient white rock beneath us and the sense of liberation that comes with walking on ground that, as Simmons puts it, expects nothing from you. Sheila de Courcy


Amazing Grace Adams By Fran Littlewood (Penguin Random House, £13.99)

Opening with incandescent road rage in the middle of existential levels of perspiration, Amazing Grace Adams starts the way it means to continue – with humour, and a hard stare into the mind, body and heart of Grace, now 45 and going through every symptom in the perimenopausal handbook. Grace must deliver a birthday cake to her estranged daughter Lottie on her 16th birthday, which sees her on a plodding, sweating, disaster-strewn odyssey across London. It is hilarious (“it’s like your vagina is eating itself” a doctor diagnoses) and insightful, as it explores Grace’s fears about her fast-forwarding teenager into an unsafe, predatory world, alongside the psychological and emotional tsunami of mid-forties motherhood. From disappearing lip lines to time, ageing, love and desire, it’s a fast-paced, pithy novel, with bark-out-loud laughs and notes of deep tenderness. Ruth McKee