Ticket Awards 2017: The best books of the year

Here are our best reads of the last year

It has been a good year for Irish writing, with individual successes being matched by industry moves designed to harness what is (rightly) perceived as an exciting wave of new Irish talent.

An auspicious 2017 was bookended with Sebastian Barry winning the 2016 Costa Book of the Year Award in January for Days Without End (more prizes would follow) while last week three other Irish writers were shortlisted for the 2017 Costa Book Awards: Karl Geary for the First Novel Award for Montpelier Parade; Sinéad Morrissey for the Poetry Award for On Balance; and Sarah Crossan for the Children's Book Award shortlist with Moonrise.

The quality of the work being published by small Irish publishers such as Tramp Press has been recognised with British and US firms snapping up rights to Sara Baume and Mike McCormack. HarperCollins, meanwhile, has appointed Eoin McHugh, who as head of Transworld Ireland published Donal Ryan's The Spinning Heart, to the new role of Irish publishing director, tasked with acquiring Irish authors for the Irish and British markets.

This follows London publisher Head of Zeus teaming up with New Island to publish several of their titles in Britain, starting in January with Room Little Darker by June Caldwell, a dark debut story collection of jet-black gems that features on our top 10 Irish fiction list, along with the aforementioned Montpelier Parade. The list features another impressive debut collection, In White Ink by Elske Rahill, as well as Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney, a scintillating debut novel that has sparked more conversations in my earshot than any other book this year.


The veterans were also to the fore, however, with Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty, his first novel in 16 years, my personal favourite. Colm Tóibín's House of Names, a brilliant retelling of a Greek tragedy, has many admirers. Smile by Roddy Doyle, a tale of midlife crisis triggered by childhood abuse, was adjudged by our reviewer Brian Dillon to have been a bit of a curate's egg, but it was more of a Fabergé egg for many others. Eoin McNamee was effusive in his praise of Minds of Winter by Ed O'Loughlin and it has subsequently been shortlisted for the Giller Prize, Canada's most prestigious award. The Heart's Invisible Furies is regarded by many as John Boyne's finest work to date, while When Light is Like Water, Molly McCloskey's tale of love and loss, captured many hearts.

Summer reads

Our summer reads feature almost functions as a best books of the first half of the year round-up and the stand-out title then was Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, a Korean-Japanese family epic, and sure enough it crops up here too, along with a clutch of impressive debuts by Jenny Zhang, Paula Cocozza, Gabriel Tallent and Lisa Ko, and two works in translation, Go Went Gone by Germany's Jenny Erpenbeck, translated by Susan Bernofsky, and Vernon Subutex 1 by France's Virginie Despentes, translated by Frank Wynne. Elizabeth Strout's My Name Is Lucy Barton was one of my favourites from 2015 and her follow-up, Anything is Possible, does not disappoint. Tin Man by Sarah Winman, also Costa shortlisted, is a heartwarming read, while A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee is another devastating, haunting tale from India.

Our Irish non-fiction top 10 ranges from a biography of Shaw by our own Fintan O'Toole, recently appointed Seamus Heaney's official biographer, to Maggie O'Farrell's deeply affecting story of her brushes with death, and examinations of potential disasters, whether ecological (Whittled Away: Ireland's Vanishing Nature) or economic (Brexit & Ireland: the Dangers, the Opportunities, and the Inside Story of the Irish Response). The heavyweight contender is, however, Atlas of the Irish Revolution, edited by John Crowley, Donal O Drisceoil and Mike Murphy, Cork University Press's mammoth, 5kg history book which, despite a hefty if reasonable price tag, is the year's surprise bestseller.

Vanishing nature

Brexit and vanishing nature also crop up in our international non-fiction top 10, with works by Anthony Barnett on the political drama and Robert Macfarlane with Jackie Morris on the environmental catastrophe. The fates of Ireland and Britain are inextricably interlinked, as evidenced in Clair Wills's masterful Lovers & Strangers: An Immigrant History of Post-War Britain, which given the author's Irish lineage could equally sit in the Irish non-fiction list. Luke Harding's Collusion: How Russia Helped Trump Win the White House lifts the lid on that other headline-grabbing horror show, while Hannah's Dress by Pascale Hugues captures the tragedy of Jews in Nazi Berlin. Family portraits by Richard Ford and Richard Beard and biographies of Edward Lear and Robert Lowell provide a refreshing contrast.

Two Irish authors, Haylen Beck aka Stuart Neville and Julie Parsons, make our crime top 10, where even a non-vintage John le Carré stands out, but Spook Street by Mick Herron, his latest Jackson Lamb outing, is a modern masterpiece.

Forward Prize winner On Balance by Sinéad Morrissey and TS Eliot Prize shortlisted The Radio by Leontia Flynn and The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx by Tara Bergin are joined in our poetry top five by Live Streaming by Conor O'Callaghan and Selected Poems by Colette Bryce.

There is room only to note the three Irish names on the children's and YA shortlists, Oliver Jeffers, Room author Emma Donoghue and Lucinda Jacob in the younger section and YA author Deirdre Sullivan, whose Tangleweed and Brine features in many fellow authors' books of the year.

‘Irish Times’ critics’ selection 2017

Irish fiction

  • Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
  • Room Little Darker by June Caldwell
  • In White Ink by Elske Rahill
  • When Light is Like Water by Molly McCloskey
  • Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty
  • Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary
  • Smile by Roddy Doyle
  • The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne
  • Minds of Winter by Ed O'Loughlin
  • House of Names by Colm Tóibín

International fiction

  • Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang
  • How to Be Human by Paula Cocozza
  • My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
  • The Leavers by Lisa Ko
  • Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
  • Tin Man by Sarah Winman
  • A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee
  • Go Went Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck
  • Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Despentes, translated by Frank Wynne
  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Irish non-fiction

  • Judging Shaw by Fintan O'Toole
  • I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O'Farrell
  • Whittled Away: Ireland's Vanishing Nature by Pádraic Fogarty
  • Atlas of the Irish Revolution edited by John Crowley, Donal O Drisceoil and Mike Murphy
  • The End of Outrage: Post-Famine Adjustment in Rural Ireland by Breandán Mac Suibhne
  • To Be A Machine: Adventures Among Cyborgs, Utopians, Hackers, and the Futurists Solving the Modest Problem of Death by Mark O'Connell
  • Namaland by Frank Connolly
  • On Tuesdays I am a Buddhist by Michael Harding
  • Brexit & Ireland: the Dangers, the Opportunities, and the Inside Story of the Irish Response by Tony Connelly
  • Essayism by Brian Dillon

International non-fiction

  • Hannah's Dress by Pascale Hugues
  • Between Them: Remembering My Parents by Richard Ford
  • The Day That Went Missing by Richard Beard
  • The Uncommon Reader: A Life of Edward Garnett by Helen Smith
  • Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense by Jenny Uglow
  • The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris
  • Collusion: How Russia Helped Trump Win the White House by Luke Harding
  • Brexit, The Lure of Greatness by Anthony Barnett
  • Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire: A Study of Genius, Mania, and Character by Kay Redfield Jamison
  • Lovers & Strangers: An Immigrant History of Post-War Britain by Clair Wills


  • Lola by Melissa Scrivner Love
  • Spook Street by Mick Herron
  • Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land
  • Here and Gone by Haylen Beck
  • A Legacy of Spies by John le Carré
  • Little Deaths by Emma Flint
  • Lightning Men by Thomas Mullen
  • What Remains of Me by AL Gaylin
  • The Therapy House by Julie Parsons
  • Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy


  • On Balance by Sinéad Morrissey
  • The Radio by Leontia Flynn
  • Live Streaming by Conor O'Callaghan
  • Selected Poems by Colette Bryce
  • The Tragic Death of Eleanor Marx by Tara Bergin


  • The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue
  • The Wolf, The Duck and The Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen
  • The Dollmaker of Krakow by RM Romero
  • Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers
  • Hopscotch in the Sky by Lucinda Jacob

Young adult

  • The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed
  • Tangleweed and Brine by Deirdre Sullivan
  • They Both Die At The End by Adam Silvera
  • Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer
  • Turtles All The Way Down by John Green

Contributors: Declan Burke, Declan Hughes, Claire Hennessy, Sara Keating, Martin Doyle, Eoin McNamee, Diarmaid Ferriter, Sarah Gilmartin, Arminta Wallace