Celebrate Irish Writers

With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, now is the time to check out books by writers from Ireland’s native shores, available at the Mercer County Library System.

The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story edited by Anne Enright
The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story edited by Anne Enright
Lyrical, dark, comic or iconoclastic, the Irish short story has always punched well above its weight. Anne Enright has brought together a dazzling collection of Irish stories by authors born in the twentieth century, including Colm Toibin, Mary Lavin, Frank O'Connor, William Trevor, Claire Keegan, Kevin Barry, and others. With a pithy and passionate introduction by Enright, The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story traces this great tradition through decades of social change and shows the pleasure Irish writers continue to take in the short-story form. Deft and often devastating, the short story dodges the rolling mythologies of Irish life to produce truths that are delightful and real.

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin (author of Brooklyn)
Nora Webster by Colm Toibin
“Toibin's 10th novel offers a compelling portrait of an Irish woman for whom fate has prescribed loneliness. Widowed at 40, with four children and shaky finances, Nora rejects condolences and pity. She is so intent on making her children's lives normal that she ignores their need to mourn as well. In the wake of her husband's terminal illness, she instills fear and bewilderment in her two younger boys; they have nightmares, and one begins to stutter. The two girls, away at school, are resentful as well. Nora is sometimes obtuse about the choices she makes. She is short-tempered and sharp-tongued, and she makes significant mistakes-but her frailties make her an appealing character. Catholicism is woven into the setting of 1970s Enniscorthy. The Church is represented by a mean, small-minded teacher in the Christian Brothers monastery school and by a saintly nun who acts as guardian angel for the family. Several years pass, in which Nora gradually finds an unexpected fulfillment in a talent she had never acknowledged. Toibin never employs dramatic fireworks to add an artificial boost to the narrative. No new suitor magically appears to fall in love with Nora. Instead, she remains a brave woman learning how to find a meaningful life as she goes on alone.”—Publishers Weekly

“A remarkably heart-affecting story.”—Booklist (Starred Review)

“Toibin smoothly meshes historical events with the day-to-day life of the grieving family. The work is flawlessly narrated by Fiona Shaw, whose Irish accent perfectly suits the novel.”—Library Journal

Frog Music by Emma Donoghue
Frog Music by Emma Donoghue (author of Room)
Summer of 1876: San Francisco is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heatwave and a smallpox epidemic. Through the window of a railroad saloon, a young woman called Jenny Bonnet is shot dead. The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Over the next three days, she will risk everything to bring Jenny's murderer to justice--if he doesn't track her down first. The story Blanche struggles to piece together is one of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers and arrogant millionaires; of jealous men, icy women and damaged children. It's the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts.

In thrilling, cinematic style, Frog Music digs up a long-forgotten, never-solved crime. Full of songs that migrated across the world, Emma Donoghue's lyrical tale of love and bloodshed among lowlifes captures the pulse of a boomtown like no other.

"More fine work from one of popular fiction's most talented practitioners.... Donoghue's vivid rendering of Gilded Age San Francisco is notable for her atmospheric use of popular songs and slang in Blanche's native French, but the book's emotional punch comes from its portrait of a woman growing into self-respect as she takes responsibility for the infant life she's created."―Kirkus Reviews

"Donoghue's first literary crime novel is a departure from her bestselling Room, but it's just as dark and just as gripping as the latter.... Aside from the obvious whodunit factor, the book is filled with period song lyrics and other historic details, expertly researched and flushed out.... Donoghue's signature talent for setting tone and mood elevates the book from common cliffhanger to a true chef d'oeuvre."― Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

"An engrossing and suspenseful tale about moral growth, unlikely friendship, and breaking free from the past."―Booklist (Starred Review)

"Donoghue's evocative language invades the senses.... Readers won't quickly forget this rollicking, fast-paced novel, which is based on a true story and displays fine bits of humor with underlying themes of female autonomy and the right to own one's sexual identity."―Library Journal (Starred Review)
The Green Road by Anne Enright

The Green Road by Anne Enright
“Booker Prize winner Enright (The Gathering) lays bare the hopes, desperations, and all too brief moments of understanding in family and modern life. Her unsparing look at the difficulties of being in the world will appeal to lovers of literary fiction.”—Library Journal

“In her new novel, she explores a family composed of a mother and her four children as the two boys and the two girls grow up and leave the nest in the west of Ireland. From priest Daniel, who steps into New York's gay and art scene, to the staying-close-to-home Constance, facing the strictures of her own marriage and motherhood, Enright trails the Madigans over three decades, illuminating their trials and triumphs as reflective of not only their distinctive personalities and personal interests but also Irish society moving into the modern era of contraception, economic boom and bust, and open homosexuality. A final chapter, which gathers the now-elderly mother and her middle-aged children back to the family home for Christmas, places their individual lives back into a family perspective.”—Booklist (Starred Review)

“This novel is a vibrant family portrait, both pitiless and compassionate, witty and stark, of simple people living quiet lives of anguish, sometimes redeemed by moments of grace.”—Publishers Weekly

The Secret Place by Tana French
“A year after the brutal murder of a young man on the grounds of posh St. Kilda's school for girls, the case remains unsolved. Then Holly Mackey, a 16-year-old Kilda's student and the daughter of Dublin Murder Squad's Machiavellian Frank Mackey, approaches Detective Stephen Moran with a tantalizing clue: a card with a photo of the victim and the words, I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM, which she says she plucked from a school bulletin board. Moran, who met Holly when she was a nine-year-old witness to a crime, knows instantly that this could be his ticket into the elite Murder Squad if the famously combative Antoinette Conway, the lead investigator on the case, will have him. As the detectives learn more about the connections of the victim to two rival Kilda's cliques, they begin to understand that the girls are more devious, and possibly more dangerous, than they had imagined. Complex characters and a vivid sense of place are at the heart of French's literary success (Broken Harbor, 2012), and although Conway and Moran are fine protagonists, it is the members of the two rival cliques, and St. Kilda's itself, that make The Secret Place much more than just a solid whodunit. French brilliantly and plausibly channels the rebellion, conformity, inchoate longings, rages, and shared bonds, as well as Kilda's role in fostering them.”—Booklist (Starred Review)

“French stealthily spins a web of teenage secrets with a very adult crime at the center.”—Publishers Weekly

“True to form, French succeeds yet again in both wholly satisfying and deeply unsettling the reader. Not to be missed.”—Library Journal

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell
Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell
London, 1976. In the thick of a record-breaking heatwave, Gretta Riordan’s newly retired husband has cleaned out his bank account and vanished. Now, for the first time in years, Gretta calls her children home : Michael Francis, a history teacher whose marriage is failing; Monica, whose blighted past has driven a wedge between her and her younger sister; and Aoife, the youngest, whose new life in Manhattan is elaborately arranged to conceal a devastating secret.

In a story that stretches from the Upper West Side to a village on the coast of Ireland, Maggie O’Farrell explores the mysteries that inhere within families, and reveals the fault lines over which we build our lives. Instructions for a Heatwave weaves an unforgettable narrative of a family falling apart and coming together with hard-won, life-changing truths about who they really are.

“O’Farrell, in her sixth novel, draws a beautiful portrait of family life.”—Booklist

Transatlantic by Colum McCann
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
In the National Book Award–winning Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann thrilled readers with a marvelous high-wire act of fiction that The New York Times Book Review called “an emotional tour de force.” Now McCann demonstrates once again why he is one of the most acclaimed and essential authors of his generation with a soaring novel that spans continents, leaps centuries, and unites a cast of deftly rendered characters, both real and imagined.

Newfoundland, 1919. Two aviators—Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown—set course for Ireland as they attempt the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, placing their trust in a modified bomber to heal the wounds of the Great War.

Dublin, 1845 and ’46. On an international lecture tour in support of his subversive autobiography, Frederick Douglass finds the Irish people sympathetic to the abolitionist cause—despite the fact that, as famine ravages the countryside, the poor suffer from hardships that are astonishing even to an American slave.

New York, 1998. Leaving behind a young wife and newborn child, Senator George Mitchell departs for Belfast, where it has fallen to him, the son of an Irish-American father and a Lebanese mother, to shepherd Northern Ireland’s notoriously bitter and volatile peace talks to an uncertain conclusion.

These three iconic crossings are connected by a series of remarkable women whose personal stories are caught up in the swells of history. Beginning with Irish housemaid Lily Duggan, who crosses paths with Frederick Douglass, the novel follows her daughter and granddaughter, Emily and Lottie, and culminates in the present-day story of Hannah Carson, in whom all the hopes and failures of previous generations live on. From the loughs of Ireland to the flatlands of Missouri and the windswept coast of Newfoundland, their journeys mirror the progress and shape of history. They each learn that even the most unassuming moments of grace have a way of rippling through time, space, and memory.

The most mature work yet from an incomparable storyteller, TransAtlantic is a profound meditation on identity and history in a wide world that grows somehow smaller and more wondrous with each passing year.

“McCann creates complex, vivid characters (historical and otherwise) while expertly mixing fact and fancy to create this emotionally involving and eminently memorable novel.”—Booklist (Starred Review)

The Undertaking by Audrey Magee
The Undertaking by Audrey Magee
“This excellent debut novel opens on the `stinking hellhole’ of the front lines early in WWII, where teacher-turned-Nazi soldier Peter Faber marries a photograph of Katharina. Meanwhile, in Berlin, Katharina marries a picture of Peter. Though the two have never met, their pact `ensured honeymoon leave for him and a widow's pension for her in the event of his death.’ Much to their mutual surprise, the 10 days they are granted to consummate their marriage become intensely passionate, providing both characters with a singular reason to live. Alternating chapters follow Peter on the battlefield and Katharina's harrowing life in Berlin. Occasional letters between the two reveal private hopes, memory, and torment that add to the already white-knuckle pace of the book. An intimate portrayal of Peter and his fellow soldiers facing defeat in Russia-illustrated primarily through dialogue-shows men at once monstrous and sympathetic, barbaric yet vulnerable. By simultaneously exposing the difficulties Katharina faces at home, Magee provides a heartfelt rendering of regular Germans who have been both complicit in and abused by the Third Reich's power.”—Publishers Weekly

“Her [Magee’s] compelling but realistic love story presents characters for whom most readers will feel little sympathy because of their unquestioning belief in the German cause, yet the story is all the more fascinating as related entirely from the Nazi viewpoint. VERDICT Highly recommended; this is one of the most riveting accounts of love in time of war that this reviewer has ever read.”—Library Journal

-Lisa S.

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