The Good People – Hannah Kent

The Good People - Hannah KentThis is Ms. Kent’s second novel; her first was the excellent Burial Rites. Her two books have two characteristics: they are about women, and feature impeccable historical research. The Good People takes place in Ireland in 1825-26. The story is about the conflict between folklore and the emerging modern world of religion and law. The practice of folk knowledge to counter-act the actions of evil fairies leads to superstition, and gossip become malicious. All the characters are rich and compelling: an old crone, a grieving widow, a young maid, and an afflicted child thought to be a changeling. The story is both bleak and beautiful; highly recommended.

The Little Red Chairs – Edna O’Brien

The Little Red Chairs - Edna O_Brien
An astonishing book: the seduction by an evil person, the desperate lives of the displaced and dispossessed. The title refers to a 2012 commemoration of the siege of Sarajevo: 11,514 red chairs were placed in rows, one for each person killed in the siege that lasted for almost 4 years. What is remarkable about this book is that it is an Irish woman, Fidelma, who is the central core to the story which takes place in Ireland and England. Thanks Mike, for this recommendation.

The Trespasser – Tana French

The Trespasser - Tana FrenchAnother superb mystery thriller in the Dublin Murder Squad. The procedural detail in staging an interview, for example, is fascinating. But the best feature of this novel is the description of the head-space of Detective Antoinette Conway, the only female in the Murder Squad, so she is faced with Prime Suspect-like intrigue from the good-old-boys. French is a great crime writer; all her books are highly recommended.

The Wonder – Emma Donoghue

the-wonder-emma-donoghue
Set in Ireland in the 1860s (not long after the famine), this book provides impeccable detail into an investigation into a fantastical claim that an 11 year-old girl hasn’t eaten for four months: a miracle or a scam?  The investigation requires close observation (24/7) and as Margaret Mead postulated long ago – observation changes behaviour. One of the observers is an English nurse, so there are Irish-English issues as well. There are strong religious overtones but at its heart, this is a story about motherhood (so in that regard, somewhat similar to The Room). Donoghue is a fabulous story teller, nominated for the Giller.

The Night Stages by Jane Urquhart

night stagesUrquhart writes exquisite books: The Underpainter, The Stone Carvers, A Map of Glass, etc. This great new book is mainly set in the SW of Ireland (County Kerry) in the 1940-50s. The characters are vivid: two Irish brothers, an Englishwoman who eventually moves to Ireland, and a Canadian mural painter. A beautiful part of the book describes a prolonged fog delay in Gander Airport which allows detailed contemplation of a mural. There is much discussion about art and love, and even a bike race in the beauty of Ireland. This is one of my best reads of 2015.

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin

This is a beautifully written quiet story about a 45-year-old recently widowed woman living in Ireland (County Wexford) who is conflicted by her need for privacy and the needs of her 4 children, and the attentions of her neighbours and friends. The time is the late 1960s, with approaching social and political changes. Nora is complex, often prickly and usually blunt – a fascinating character.