Ten Irish books to follow Normal People on screen

Following the incredible success of Normal People, Eoghan O’Sullivan selects other Irish novels that could work as a small-screen series
Ten Irish books to follow Normal People on screen

Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar Jones in Normal People. Picture: Element Pictures/Enda Bowe
Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar Jones in Normal People. Picture: Element Pictures/Enda Bowe

Following the incredible success of Normal People, Eoghan O’Sullivan selects other Irish novels that could work as a small-screen series

Exciting Times - by Naoise Dolan

Naoise Dolan
Naoise Dolan

A love triangle centred on Ava, a young expat in Hong Kong who’s teaching English to rich children.

She’s having rather joyless sex with Julian, an English banker who lets her stay at his apartment rent-free.

When Edith enters the picture, Ava discovers what love might actually look like.

Exciting Times is the perfect modern romcom.

Timothée Chalamet
Timothée Chalamet

Cast: Think Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in their 90s heyday - we need stars with chemistry!

Florence Pugh and Timothée Chalamet had all of that and more in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women last year, so they’d stir as Ava and the uninvolved Julian.

The casting of Hong Konger Edith is key though - it would be a breakout role.

Leonard and Hungry Paul - by Rónán Hession

A feel-good story centred on the titular best friends who aren’t like everybody else.

Hungry Paul seems directionless (he says it’s like his life is getting smaller), his sister Grace worries about her upcoming wedding, and Leonard, meanwhile, loses his mother at the start of the novel but slowly grows in courage, despite a dispiriting job as a ghost-writer of children’s encyclopaedias.

He starts talking to Shelley, a woman in work, who inspires him to write a book of his own.

Alex Murphy and Chris Walley
Alex Murphy and Chris Walley

Cast: This has the makings of a heartwarming bromance.

‘Tis far from their Young Offenders capers, but maybe Alex Murphy and Chris Walley could update their Conor and Jock schtick as Leonard and Hungry Paul.

Promising Young Women - by Caroline O’Donoghue

Jane Peters is a mid-20s Irish woman lacking direction working in advertising in London.

On her 26th birthday, she begins an affair with her boss, Clem, who slowly ekes out a discomfiting grip over her.

Corkwoman O’Donoghue’s debut novel came out as the #MeToo revelations were swirling, and this office drama would have us squirming in our seats.

Nicola Coughlan
Nicola Coughlan

Cast: Derry Girls’ Nicola Coughlan is due a dramatic role.

She’d also be utterly sympathetic - and garner plenty of laughs - as Jane.

City of Bohane - by Kevin Barry 

You could imagine so much of Barry’s work on the big screen, from last year’s Roddy Doyle-esque Night Boat to Tangier to his myriad short stories, in particular the gorgeous ‘The Coast of Leitrim’.

But City of Bohane would be the curse-ridden, post-apocalyptic sci-fi epic Ireland deserves.

It’s got a sprawling cast, headed by the Hartnett Fancy gang who run things - think the Lannisters in Game of Thrones - but a feud emerges that leads to a battle for control of the city (which, with its mix of Limerick and Cork slang, will already be vivid to many).

Barry Keoghan
Barry Keoghan

Cast: Bohane needs an expansive cast - rising star Barry Keoghan strikes us as the obvious star of a Kevin Barry adaptation though.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither - by Sara Baume

Sara Baume
Sara Baume

Ray, the unnamed narrator of Baume’s debut, is a 57-year-old outsider living at his dead father’s home, who has no friends bar an ugly one-eyed dog with whom a strong bond is immediately forged.

He confides in the mutt, taking it for walks by what seems to be the oil refinery in Whitegate, east Cork.

After it attacks a neighbour’s dog on the beach, they embark on a ramshackle, ill fated escape across the country as the seasons change.

Ray saved the dog from the shelter - can it save him?

Brendan Gleeson
Brendan Gleeson

Cast: We need an elder statesman with the power to carry a film by themselves.

Think Brendan Gleeson or Pat Shortt in Garage.

Oh My God What a Complete Aisling - by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen 

Sarah Breen and Emer McLysaght
Sarah Breen and Emer McLysaght

From a Facebook page to a best-selling trilogy, the OMGWACA series has connected with people around the country.

Aisling lives at home in Ballygobbard and commutes to an office job in Dublin - she has dreams like every woman, of a hen and a wedding to her local GAA fella John.

A holiday to Tenerife doesn’t lead to an engagement ring though - maybe Aisling’s life isn’t quite mapped out just yet.

Emma Thompson pictured with Kenneth Branagh in 1993
Emma Thompson pictured with Kenneth Branagh in 1993

Cast: Element Pictures, which is behind Normal People, has acquired the OMGWACA rights already - we expect an instant comedy classic.

As for the dream casting, McLysaght told Evoke.ie last year: “If we could go back in time I’d like 29-year-old Emma Thompson with a pitch-perfect Irish accent.”

Notes From a Coma - by Mike McCormack

Mike McCormack
Mike McCormack

Solar Bones is McCormack’s apex but his 2005 novel Notes From a Coma was a before-its-time masterpiece, telling the story of JJ O’Malley, a Romanian orphan adopted by a Louisburgh farmer, who volunteers for the Somnos Project, an experiment that places convicts in comas rather than prisons. It’s weighty, big-picture stuff.

Indeed, McCormack himself says: “It’s a hybrid of science fiction and Irish domestic realism.

It’s John McGahern meets Philip K Dick.

Imagine they were commissioned to collaborate on an episode of The X-Files.”

Cast: The tone of this is key. Lorcan Finnegan got it spot on as director of the tense Vivarium earlier this year.

Give him a bigger budget and he could see the widescreen potential of Notes From a Coma.

The Glorious Heresies - Lisa McInerney

Lisa McInerney
Lisa McInerney

The first in Galway writer McInerney’s purported trilogy (we’re waiting with baited breath for the final installment) based in the murky undergrounds of Cork City, The Glorious Heresies follows the bumps along the way of teenagers Ryan and Karine’s relationship.

But Ryan has family issues and is also a drug dealer - the novel’s gangsters, led by Jimmy, give proceedings an edge from the outset; Jimmy’s mother Maureen accidentally kills a man in her home so Jimmy calls Tony, Ryan’s father, to help clean up the mess.

With all the makings of a Cork-set Love/Hate, but with humour, a Glorious Heresies drama would likely leave viewers biting their fingernails at what’s coming next.

Cast: Is it bad to imagine Roy Keane as the local fearsome gangster/enforcer Jimmy Phelan?

Days Without End - Sebastian Barry

Sebastian Barry
Sebastian Barry

A beautiful story that doesn’t hide, nor bask in, the horrors of war.

In the 1850s, Thomas McNulty has crossed the Atlantic, eventually coming to Missouri and signing up to the US army, where, barely 17, he fights in the Indian Wars and the Civil War with another boy, John Cole, always by his side.

“And then we quietly fucked and then we slept” - such passages are, despite the different eras and ideas, reminiscent of Normal People itself.

Clint Eastwood
Clint Eastwood

Cast: We could imagine directors clamouring to get their hands on this Western-esque script.

If we could get Unforgiven-era Clint Eastwood, it might be perfect.

The Spinning Heart - Donal Ryan 

Donal Ryan
Donal Ryan

With a new recession beckoning post-coronavirus, maybe there’s no better time to revisit the Tipperary writer’s superlative debut set in rural Ireland in the late.

The downturn has hit every person and business in the town, as the chorus of the community is explored by Ryan, with tensions, both inner and shared, bubbling up.

Paddy Breathnach
Paddy Breathnach

Cast: We need an overflowing cast a la Easy or Love on Netflix, but less sappy.

Paddy Breathnach, who directed the poignant Rosie (2018), would get the right atmosphere for the downturn drama.

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