Well-known figures such as Fiona Shaw, Joe Duffy and Sonia O’Sullivan tell Richard Fitzpatrick about the reads they’ve been most impressed with in 2019.
Your Duck is My Duck: Stories by Deborah Eisenberg (Ecco Press, €14.99)
This collection was recommended to me. When I’m in New York – we have an apartment in New York – I try and read as much American literature as I’m given because I’m in the right mode and Deborah Eisenberg is a New Yorker.
The stories are all fiction, but they’re clearly honed from real life. Some are about her mother. There’s one called ‘Taj Mahal’ about a vacation.
She’s a wonderful writer. The stories are so elegant and comic. As someone remarked: “She’s a knife wrapped in velvet.” She’s very, very good. It’s absolutely my favourite book of the year.
Seduction And Betrayal by Elizabeth Hardwick (Faber & Faber, €9.99)
For sheer precision, intelligence and eloquence of thought, there was nothing that came close to Seduction And Betrayal by Elizabeth Hardwick.
It’s a reissued collection of essays that originally came out in the 1970s. These are long, biographical essays on women of the literary past, whether factual or fictional characters – so the Brontës, Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf are in there, as well as the invented heroines of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa.
It’s a sparkling survey, full of wit and bite and empathy, and the way Hardwick holds on a thought, turns it around, and then investigates it from a new perspective is dazzling. She has a pre-internet intelligence, it goes deep rather than broad.
I don’t think there’s anyone like her now writing.
Cornucopia: The Green Cookbook (Gill Books, €29.99)
Given that I’m now the only meat-eater marooned in a family of vegans, vegetarians and climate-change activists I found Cornucopia: The Green Cookbook buried under a ream of Greta Thunberg leaflets (compostable and edible). It’s a revelation.
Using recipes from the eponymous vegetarian restaurant in central Dublin, the closest the capital has comparable to the legendary Paradiso in Cork, it is absolutely good enough to eat!
I would also give honourable mention to Kevin Barry’s Night Boat to Tangier – it’s the best evocation of Cork and its character, its accents, its humour and pathos since Lisa McInerney’s wonderful The Glorious Heresies.
Joe Duffy and Freya McClements’s Children of the Troubles: The Untold Story of the Children Killed in the Northern Ireland Conflict is published by Hachette
No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know about Domestic Violence Can Kill Us by Rachel Louise Snyder (Bloomsbury, €25)
I read a lot of non-fiction books about domestic abuse this year and few have seared themselves onto my consciousness quite like No Visible Bruises .
It reads like a novel — tightly paced, compelling, fascinating and heart-breaking in equal measures — and while Snyder’s extensive research in the field is obvious, this isn’t a dry, academic tome.
The writing style is always clear and accessible as Snyder deftly dismantles myths around violence against women. It’s an extraordinary book that deserves to be widely read.
Louise O’Neill’s Almost Love is published by Riverrun
Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century by George Packer (Cape, €27)
The deceased American diplomat Richard Holbrooke was crucial to the Balkan peace process in the 1990s and a key aide to the Clintons.
The story, which is written in brilliant prose, goes back through his career, his time in Vietnam, which is astonishingly detailed, and various other trouble spots in the world. He was a difficult but brilliant individual.
He fell out with a lot of people, with some of his closest friends yet he had extremely devoted loyalists. He was compelling in the way he charged around doing things.
It’s a very interesting portrait of a personality who wouldn’t be along the normal lines of a diplomat.
He was highly effective in many ways, but ineffective in others because of the overbearing strength of his personality. It’s an extraordinary read.
Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor (Harvill Secker, €15.99)
It’s a book that totally swept me away to that lovely Victorian time in London, moonlight and fog – the atmosphere of it. He paints the canvas so well.
You’re with Bram Stoker in the attic of the Lyceum Theatre where he was writing Dracula surrounded by all these ghost stories and the monstrous ego of Sir Henry Irving.
Bram must have used Irving as inspiration for Dracula – he comes across as a really insecure monster in the book. It has comical flourishes as well because Oscar Wilde makes a cameo, which is very funny.
You have some crazy tantrums by actors. It’s a bit like Moulin Rouge meets Dracula. I absolutely loved it.
Recovering by Richie Sadlier (Gill Books, €24.99)
Recovering sets a whole new template for what a football autobiography should be.
It’s just a great story, told with great insight and honesty – the stuff about football culture, about “laddism”.
I’ve never read a footballer speaking so honestly about that stuff, the frustration of having so much promise but not getting to deliver on it, having his career cut short.
It reminded me of Eamon Dunphy’s Only A Game? in terms of dealing with a career that doesn’t have the glory. It’s the great thing about Sadlier’s book – there’s no Rocky ending.
It’s better for that.
Darkest Truth by Catherine Kirwan (Arrow, €8.99)
We launched Darkest Truth here back in January. Cork City Library made it the One City, One Book selection in September. It has done hugely well.
It’s a crime novel set in Cork – Catherine Kirwan is a solicitor here in Cork. Cork city is kind of the star of the book in some ways.
It’s a great story – set against the backdrop of the Cork film festival about a solicitor investigating a suicide. It was timely for the #MeToo movement even though it was written before it happened; it was just coincidental.
The Goshawk by T.H. White (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, €13.99)
I’ve been harking back with my reading to old books I missed or want to re-read.
One of the books I picked up was T.H. White’s The Goshawk, which went on to inspire Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk. T.H. White kind of popularised all the Arthurian legends that we know and love. In the old, Arthurian days they all had hawks.
It was almost like golf, but, of course, they put them to good use – for hunting and all that. He gets a goshawk and decides to train it. The goshawk takes over him.
It’s the wild meets the tame, and the tame becomes wild through the doing of it.
You’re exhausted reading it because he’s exhausted. He has to stay up all night and never gets to the bottom of this goshawk.
Overcoming: A Memoir by Vicky Phelan (Hachette Books, €15.99)
This book is an amazing page turner.
It isn’t all about her having cervical cancer, how she found out, and her taking on the Government. Her whole life story is like a movie. She just had so much going on in her life.
When she was really young, about 19, she was involved in a car accident in France and her boyfriend [and two friends were] killed and she was seriously injured.
Her daughter, who was born with limited eyesight, suffered severe burns when her nightdress went on fire in an accident.
You’re thinking: how can all this be happening to one person? It’s extraordinary how she is so resilient and tough and so willing to give up her time and help other people.
She’s an amazing person. I couldn’t put the book down.