Jennifer Johnston is June’s Irish Times Book Club author
Career highlights include The Captains and the Kings, The Old Jest and Shadows on Our Skin
Jennifer Johnston’s sophisticated, at times deceptively conversational, narratives have drawn on social class in a country caught between Catholic and Protestant cultures. Photograph: Alan Betson
Jennifer Johnston, who published her first novel The Captains and the Kings in 1972 when she was 42, is this month’s Irish Times Book Club author.
Over the next month, we shall be looking back over her career, with a particuclar focus on her latest work, Naming the Stars, a haunting tale of love, loss and memory, which was published by Tinder Press last year along with her earlier novel Two Moons.
In Naming the Stars, Flora’s father has been killed in the Battle of El Alamein, one of the many victims of the second World War. For Flora and her mother, life will never be the same again. Now, it’s just Flora – and Nellie, the family’s life-long housekeeper – left; to reminisce in old age, and what really happened between Flora and her brother, Eddie, at the end of that long Irish summer.
Two Moons is set in a house overlooking Dublin Bay, where Mimi and her daughter Grace are disturbed by the unexpected arrival of Grace’s daughter and her boyfriend. While Grace’s visitors focus her attention on an uncertain future, Mimi must begin to set herself to rights with the betrayals and disappointments of the past.
Johnston has won a number of awards, including the Whitbread Book Award for The Old Jest in 1979 (later made into a film as The Dawning, starring Anthony Hopkins) and a Lifetime Achievement from the Irish Book Awards in 2012. The Captains and the Kings won the Authors Club First Novel Award and Shadows on Our Skin was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1977. Other major career success include How Many Miles to Babylon? in 1974, The Railway Station Man in 1985 (also made into a film starring Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland and John Lynch) and Fool’s Sanctuary in 1988.
Eileen Battersby, Literary Correspondent of The Irish Times, wrote of her in a 2010 profile, in which she described her as an heir to Elizabeth Bowen: “Johnston’s sophisticated, at times deceptively conversational, narratives have drawn on social class as it exists in a country caught between the contrasting Catholic and Protestant cultures ... More than any other Irish writer, it was Johnston who took the Big House novel, with its final vestiges of fading privilege, out of the countryside and towards its inevitable, and logical, resting place – the more narrow, less romantic, and ultimately realist suburban comforts of Dalkey and Killiney.”
Over the next four weeks we shall publish a series of articles looking back over Johnston’s career, culminating with a podcast on June 30th of an interview with the author by Eileen Battersby, which will be recorded at the irish Writers Centre in Dublin’s Parnell Square on Thursday, June 22nd, at 7.30pm. Admission is free and all are welcome to attend and meet the author.