Smile, Roddy Doyle's powerful and moving novel about a middle-aged Dubliner traumatised by memories of abuse by a cleric in his childhood, has been chosen by Ticket readers as their favourite Irish fiction of 2017.
Brian Dillon's Irish Times review was mixed, praising Smile as "keenly observed and moving" and " mutedly elegant", but concluding that its "more complex ambitions . . . ultimately fail". However, Smile featured prominently in the Irish Times survey of writers' and critics' books of the year, winning praise from John Boyne ("Roddy Doyle's finest book in 20 years"), Anne Enright ("Doyle writes about damage without relish or sensationalism. In Smile he manages to be considered and to take risks at the same time"); Fintan O'Toole ("takes a big risk with an old-fashioned plot device but pulls it off superbly – a genuinely haunting book"); and Diarmaid Ferriter ("convincing and unsettling; it is an uneasy and risky book and the better for that").
Now it has won the popular vote, easily outstripping strong challengers in Colm Tóibín, Sally Rooney, John Boyne and Molly McCloskey. The Irish Book Awards Novel of the Year and my own favourite, Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty, finished just outside the top five.
More than 7,000 readers voted in this year's annual Ticket awards, in which books made their (sparkling) debut.
There was a bit of an upset in the Irish nonfiction category with The End of Outrage: Post-Famine Adjustment in Rural Ireland by Breandán Mac Suibhne topping the poll, almost 100 votes ahead of its nearest challenger, Fintan O'Toole's George Bernard Shaw biography Judging Shaw, which just pipped Atlas of the Irish Revolution, edited by John Crowley, Donal Ó Drisceoil and Mike Murphy to second place.
Reviewer Diarmaid Ferriter called Atlas “mammoth and magnificent” and the 5kg tome with a €59 price tag had already proved itself the publishing sensation of the year with over 20,000 sales before winning the Best Irish-Published Book of the Year award. However, it and the Shaw biography were comfortably beaten by Mac Suibhne’s intimate post-Famine history of the small rural Donegal community in which he grew up.
Given its relatively modest sales, it is fair to assume that readers were swayed by Mac Suibhne's compelling essay based on his work, published in The Ticket on November 25th alongside Christopher Kissane's review, which concluded: "It is impossible not to be moved by the humanity with which Mac Suibhne writes of his ancestors and their neighbours, or to be provoked by his unconventional epic. From a local row he has crafted an extraordinary work of history that makes its own importance."
Lovers and Strangers: An Immigrant History of Post-War Britain by Clair Wills was a runaway winner in the International Nonfiction category. As Irish Times reviewer Roy Foster observed, "the author of this book about people who cross borders is something of a border-crosser herself. Clair Wills is a distinguished literary scholar who has migrated into social history" and who has "painted an absorbing, substantial and often scintillating picture of immigrant Britain after 1945. Richly empathetic, it comes at a poignant moment in British history."
The Leavers by New Yorker Lisa Ko is a deserving and timely, if perhaps surprising, choice to win the international fiction prize, given that the debut author is not that well known despite winning the Pen/Bellwether Prize for Fiction, awarded by Barbara Kingsolver for a novel that addresses issues of social justice. "At the heart of Lisa Ko's stunning debut novel," wrote Irish Times reviewer Sarah Gilmartin, "is a mother-son relationship rent apart by the cruel conditions forced upon undocumented immigrants."
A Legacy of Crime by John le Carré, which marked the welcome return of George Smiley, was the runaway winner in the crime category, with The Therapy House by Irish author Julie Parsons, herself returning to the fray after many years, its closest challenger. "The heart has its own damaged tradecraft," reviewer Eoin McNamee observed, "and Le Carré draws on a nexus between sexual fidelity and high-level treachery."
The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx by Tara Bergin pipped Forward Prize-winner On Balance by Sinéad Morrissey to top the poetry poll. Reviewer John McAuliffe called it "an exhilarating read, daring, original and very funny. A book this good and this enjoyable ought be part of every reader's summer reading list."
Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers won the Children's award. "Jeffers attempts to explain the vastness and the minutiae of the universe to a young child," wrote Sara Keating. "With densely illustrated pages, he captures the immensity and diversity of life, while creating an intimate connection between narrator and young listener."
Deirdre Sullivan topped the Young Adult poll with Tangleweed and Brine, which, wrote reviewer Claire Hennessy, "offers up haunting and stunning takes on what it means to be a teenage girl".
Smile by Roddy Doyle
House of Names by Colm Tóibín
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
When Light is Like Water by Molly McCloskey
The Leavers by Lisa Ko
Tin Man by Sarah Winman
How to be Human by Paula Cocozza
Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
The End of Outrage: Post-Famine Adjustment in Rural Ireland by Breandán Mac Suibhne
Judging Shaw by Fintan O'Toole
Atlas of the Irish Revolution edited by John Crowley, Donal Ó Drisceoil and Mike Murphy
I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O'Farrell
On Tuesdays I am a Buddhist by Michael Harding
Lovers and Strangers: An Immigrant History of Post-War Britain by Clair Wills
Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense by Jenny Uglow
The Day That Went Missing by Richard Beard
Collusion: How Russia Helped Trump Win the White House by Luke Harding
Between Them: Remembering My Parents by Richard Ford
A Legacy of Crime by John le Carré
The Therapy House by Julie Parsons
Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land
Little Deaths by Emma Flint
Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy
The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx by Tara Bergin
On Balance by Sinéad Morrissey
Live Streaming by Conor O'Callaghan
The Radio by Leontia Flynn
Selected Poems by Colette Bryce
Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers
The Dollmaker of Krakow by RM Romero
The Wolf, The Duck and The Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
Hopscotch in the Sky by Lucinda Jacob
The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue
Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan
Turtles All The Way Down by John Green
They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed
Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer