Three Irish novelists on tenterhooks over Booker shortlist

Donal Ryan, Colm Tóibín and Colum McCann hope to be among six nominees

What happens next is usually a question to which omniscient authors know all the answers. Tonight, however, three Irish writers face a cliffhanger of their own as they await the announcement at 10.30am tomorrow of this year’s Man Booker shortlist.

First-time novelist Donal Ryan (The Spinning Heart) and veterans Colm Tóibín (The Testament of Mary) and Colum McCann (TransAtlantic) will be hoping not to be left out as the list is whittled down from 13 to six. Jim Crace, at 67 the oldest author on the longlist, is the bookmakers' favourite for Harvest, but the odds also suggest that all three Irish authors should make the shortlist for the £50,000 (€59,000) prize, which will be announced on October 15th.

Ryan's debut novel, The Spinning Heart, set in his native Tipperary in the aftermath of the recession, has already benefited from his nomination. It is currently third in the Irish bestseller list, having sold 786 copies in the last week of August.

47 rejections
The novel was rejected by publishers 47 times before being picked up by the Lilliput Press. Ryan is now adapting it for the stage and his second novel, The Thing About December, will be published in January.


Ryan, who still works as an inspector with the National Employment Rights Authority in Shannon, Co Clare, has also been nominated for the £10,000 Guardian First Book Award, to be announced in November, along with fellow Booker nominee NoViolet Bulawayo.

The first-time author admitted that he had been overwhelmed by his nomination: “I’ve been determined to avoid words like rollercoaster and speechless but they creep unbidden into every answer to this question. So I might as well admit that I was unable to form intelligible sentences for a few hours after hearing the news, which was quite inconvenient as my phone kept ringing. I’ve almost stopped vacillating wildly between joy and terror now and am mostly suffused with a warm feeling of happiness.”

Enniscorthy native Tóibín has twice been shortlisted for the prize, in 1999 with The Blackwater Lightship and in 2004 with The Master. The Testament of Mary is a novella examining the grief of Christ's mother. A stage production of the work was nominated for three Tony awards earlier this year. On being nominated, he said: "It is nice that some people liked the book."

McCann's novel was partly inspired by Alcock and Brown's pioneering transatlantic flight. McCann, who was born in Dublin in 1965, lives in New York and won the National Book Award and the Impac prize for Let the Great World Spin.

“It felt like a return home for me,” he said of his nomination.

“I knew I was writing a novel with obvious British and Irish overtones, and in the end the novel truly belongs in Northern Ireland, where I spent so many of my childhood summers. I’ve written eight books and it was my first time to be longlisted.

“I got the news early in the morning so I didn’t pop the champagne immediately, and I certainly didn’t start shaking the dust off the tuxedo jacket, but it felt as if many years of work had come to fruition. And I was grateful for that, deeply grateful.”

Robert Macfarlane, chairman of the five judges, described this year's longlist as the most diverse yet, "wonderfully various in terms of geography, form, length and subject".

Previous Irish Booker winners include Anne Enright for The Gathering (2007); John Banville for The Sea (2005); and Roddy Doyle for Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (1993).

This Saturday, Tóibín will become the third Irish Booker-longlisted author to have a short story published in The Irish Times as part of the Legends of the Fall series, in which writers reflect on the economic crash.

Martin Doyle

Martin Doyle

Martin Doyle is Books Editor of The Irish Times