If you get a chance to lounge on a beach this summer, don’t do it alone, pop a book into your beach bag. Our top picks cover everything from sports to short stories, fact to fiction — there’s something for everyone in our top 12 list.
COLUM MCCANN’S TransAtlantic (Bloomsbury, €20.99) is probably the most-vaunted novel of the year to come from an Irish writer. It follows on from his US National Book Award-winning Let The Great World Spin. McCann will be hoping it also shifts a million copies. Like its predecessor, it weaves several storylines together, beginning with Alcock and Brown’s transatlantic flight in a converted bomber from Newfoundland to Connemara in 1919 before stepping back in time to ex-slave Frederick Douglass’s trip to Ireland in 1845, just as the country was being engulfed in famine, and forward to 1998 and Senator George Mitchell’s role in the Northern Ireland Peace Process. A fictional family of women, one a servant girl in the house which hosts Douglass who takes a coffin ship to the New World, threads the stories together.
Literary sports fans were abuzz when it was announced in January that David Peace’s next novel, Red or Dead (Faber & Faber, €15.99), would be about Bill Shankly, the godfather of Liverpool FC. It will be published, Aug 1. Shanks managed the club from 1959 to ‘74, but his memory endures, not least for some of some of his immortal quotes, including that one about football being more important than life or death. John Giles successfully sued Peace for misrepresentation in his last fictionalised account of a football man, The Damned Utd, which focused on Brian Clough’s torturous 44 days at Leeds United. Let’s see if Peace ruffles some red feathers this time out.
What happens to people who are close to someone murdered, when “the heavy curtain” falls so dramatically? This is the starting point for The Infatuations (Hamish Hamilton, €20.99), the latest novel by IMPAC-award winner, Javier Marías, and the one book that should be in every travel bag this summer. The Infatuations is a crime novel, which transplants the hardboiled world of the great American noir writers for playful European metaphysical thought, as it examines the murder of a wealthy, 50-year-old scion of a film distribution business in Madrid.
In 1913, David Lloyd George, a few years from becoming prime minister, despaired that Britain was overrun with “footballers, stock exchangers, public-house and music-hall frequenters”. So what’s changed? Charles Emmerson’s exhaustive study, 1913: The World Before the Great War (The Bodley Head, €27.00) turns up some fascinating insights about the world a hundred years ago. He takes a look at 23 cities, from old world metropolises, London and Rome, to colonial outposts like Algiers and Winnipeg, and to rising powers such as Tokyo. Vienna, in particular, home to Gustav Klimt, Sigmund Freud, Leon Trotsky, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Adolf Hitler, “his fists clenched in excitement” as he looked on at the city’s raucous parliament, seemed a fascinating city.
Eoin Colfer’s second crime fiction outing, Screwed (Headline, €14.99) is a rollicking read. Following on, of course, from his successful Artemis Fowl children’s literature series, Screwed is well named. Its protagonist of Dan McEvoy is a 43-year-old, Irish, ex-soldier living in New Jersey who has battalions of enemies lining up to take a pot at him, among them the mob, bent cops and, improbably, his step-grandmother. McEvoy has his friends, too, and some professionals helping him out, including a shrink who once told him he was obsessed with vengeance, to which McEvoy replied: “Obsessed with vengeance? Who told you that? I’ll kill him.”
Few novels this year have arrived with as much fanfare as Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers (Harvill Secker, €17.99). Colm Tóibín chose it as one of his standout summer novels; Scott Rudin, the only producer to win Oscar, Tony, Grammy and Emmy awards, has bought the film rights. Kushner, who was nominated for a National Book Award for her debut novel, sets The Flamethrowers around events in 1977. Her main character, the 23-year-old Reno (who takes her nickname from her hometown) drifts into the New York art scene of the East Village. Later she decamps to Italy with her older Italian lover, just as the country is being convulsed by kidnappings and terrorism.
Niamh Boyce’s The Herbalist (Penguin, €13.99) may well be the Irish novel of the year. Boyce, who lives in Ballylinan, Co Laois, is one of the most exciting literary talents to emerge in recent years. Her debut novel The Herbalist is set in a dreary midlands town in 1930s Ireland. The exotic herbalist of the novel’s title beguiles the women of the town. He sets up his stall one day in the market square, but, as Emily, a local teenager discovers, his facility with potions is only a front for another darker practice.
The Never List (Harvill Secker, €10.99) by Koethi Zan subverts the conventions of the crime novel genre in a plotline that is eerily reminiscent of the case uncovered in Cleveland in May. The book’s victim, Sarah, turns detective when she’s forced to overcome her agoraphobia, the result of years spent as a hostage in a cellar, so she can solve the mystery of what happened one of her co-prisoners, best friend Jennifer, and keep their captor behind bars. The other two women who were held captive with the pair don’t welcome her investigations.
Town & Country: New Irish Short Stories (Faber and Faber, €10.99) is the ideal companion for an airport lounge, as Irish short story writing has a noble heritage. The City of Bohane author Kevin Barry edits this collection, the fourth in the series. Barry’s story in a previous edition, Beer Trip to Llandudno, scooped the world’s most valuable short story prize last year. Town & Country contains tales from Dermot Healy, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Julian Gough, Pat McCabe and the talented Skippy Dies author, Paul Murray.
Alan Glynn’s Graveland (Faber and Faber, €13.99) is the last part of a loose thriller trilogy, among them the well-received Bloodland. In Graveland, Ellen Dorsey is an investigative journalist in New York who encounters Frank, an architect on the hunt for his missing daughter, Lizzie and her boyfriend. It soon becomes apparent that their disappearance is tied up with a spate of grisly assassinations of some of Wall Street’s stalwarts. Matters are complicated when James Vaughan, a legendary, aggressive chief executive of a private equity firm, becomes embroiled in their fates.
A gamal is the word for a village idiot. There’s a touch, however, of the idiot savant about Charlie, the narrator in Ciarán Collins’s novel, The Gamal (Bloomsbury, €13.99). We can never be quite sure if he’s as innocent as he makes out, chiefly because of his knowing humour. “I decided there was no point in being a gamal if you’re not ignorant,” he says. The story hinges on a dead body, young love and Charlie’s teenage friendship in a small town in Northern Ireland with a beautiful, talented girl, Sinead, and James, a well-heeled, athletic Protestant. The ruse — is he cute or not? — makes for a compelling read.
Susan Stairs taps into something that will resonate with a lot of readers of a certain age in her debut novel, The Story of Before (Corvus, €13.99). Her tale is set in Dublin in the 1970s. The action unfolds at a time when children could roam unsupervised from morning to evening on the streets. There was a great sense of adventure to life for youngsters back then. Parents were trusting. Real danger wasn’t really at large except in rare incidences like the kind that befalls the family of Ruth, the 11-year-old narrator of The Story of Before.