I know it’s been a while, I know.
Pretty much 6 months since I blogged last (a list of books for the summer). To be honest I’ve just been rattling on about what I’ve been up to so much on social and the likes I had completely forgotten to put things together all on one page somewhere like here so they don’t get lost.
And so, my list of best books from 2018 that I’ve read and I think you should too, all with very brief reasons why (no-one has the time in the week before Xmas for long descriptions!)
Catherine Gray – The Unexpected Joy Of Being Sober
Part the story of one woman’s descent into alcoholism when she worked as a magazine journalist and editor in London in her 20s and how much better life is without booze. It’s far from just a memoir though – it forces every “moderate” drinker to ask cold, hard questions about why they drink, and if they’d be better off without it.
Liz Nugent – Skin Deep
If you’ve read the awesome Liz Nugent’s first two novels (and if not, why not?) then you know what to expect here. A killer first line to drag you in and a morally compromised central sociopath (or two), except this time a fair chunk of the lifelong slow motion car crash that is Cordelia’s life, and the constantly shifting ground of her story in which many things are never what they seem.
Jess Kidd – The Hoarder
Her brand new second novel after the very well-received “Himself” and is the story of one old Olympic-level hoarder living in a huge Victorian mansion in London, the woman who comes to help him and the unexpected and eerie places it takes them both. Beautifully phrased (as usual), creepy, part Rebecca, part Gothic ghost story.
Tom Rachman – The Italian Teacher
I am genuinely thrilled this has made the shortlist for Novel Of The Year a the Costa Book Awards (not the category I judged by the way!) A novel about a globally famous overbearing father and how that affects the life of his son set against the backdrop of mid-20th century modern art. A beautiful little gem.
Helen Cullen – The Lost Letters Of William Woolf
This little wonder is set in London’s Dead Letter Office and is about being in love for a while, being sure about that person and your relationship, and then starting to ask questions of that relationship. About whether the other person is your “great love”, whether such a thing even exists, and, if it does, how do you find it with almost no idea where to start? A cracking debut from a young Irish author that’s perfect holiday material.
John Connell – The Cow Book
This has been the surprise hit of the year so far for many, but not for me. John grew up on a rural Irish farm, went to Australia and Canada to make his way in other worlds and finds himself back home for the bones of a year helping out his father on the land. Non-fiction but a real, human gripping story all the same.
James Smythe – I Still Dream
Like Black Mirror? Then this is for you. At 17 and in the era of dial-up Laura is developing a primitive artificial intelligence. The book takes us forward in jumps all the way to a near-future when corporations have developed ones that are less scrupulous than hers. All about family, empty holes in life, memory and where we’re all going.
Caoilinn Hughes – Orchid And The Wasp
Again I’m so happy to see this turning up on “Book Of The Year” lists everywhere – one of the most beautifully written novels of 2018 with one of the most memorable central characters. Gail Foess starts in 2008 with rich parents just before the crash and then makes her own way in the world after everything crashes and her family fractures from Dublin to London to the barriers of the Occupy movement in New York. I’m doing it no justice. Read it.
Kit De Waal – The Trick To Time
The book many people I know have been referring to as their favourite of the year and, in my eyes, better than her first standout My Name Is Leon. At 60, Mona loves running her shop in a British seaside town, but her life from the time she came over to Birmingham from Wexford as a young woman casts a long shadow. Just heartbreaking, genuinely.
Michael Chabon – Pops: Fatherhood In Pieces
A gorgeous, short collection of his non-fiction all about fathers and children. Everything from teaching your kid not to be a d**k to girls through having to explain the use of racial language while reading Huckleberry Finn, his conflicted feeling on baseball and appreciating his daughter’s weirdness. Worth your time even if only for the brilliant essay that starts it about bringing his son to Fashion Week in Paris.
David Graeber – Bullshit Jobs – A Theory
Ever felt as if your job has no meaning, brings no value in to the world and, ultimately, if it disappeared in the morning the human race would be none the poorer for it? Apparently 37% of people in the U.K. do. This book is about them (and us!), what they suffer for being in jobs like that, the percentage of all of our jobs that’s increasingly becoming bullshit, and where in the history of work is all came to pass. An eye-opener.
John Boyne – A Ladder To The Sky
Maurice is a young aspiring writer working in a hotel in East Berlin in 1988 when he meets a famed older writer who starts him on a path of social-climbing, idea stealing and fame. It takes us through the fall of the wall, into a brilliant section set in Gore Vidal’s house on the Amalfi Coast, through his fallow years married to a university lecturer and to New York, all the time stealing others ideas to keep him prominent and renowned. A fantastic story full of cruelty, deceit and underhandedness, thus I loved it.
Donal Ryan – From A Low And Quiet Sea
If you haven’t read all of Donal Ryan’s work up until now you have to go to the back of the class. Here he continues to expand the Ryanverse (I’m the only person calling it that) with acutely observed portraits of normal people living real lives in 21st century Ireland. You won’t be disappointed. There is one exception to this – I think the first section, set in Syria, is among the best things Donal has ever written.
Emile Pine – Notes To Self
The most talked about publication in Irish book circles this year and it’s only getting bigger. Emilie Pine’s debut collection can be hard going and stark in places, dealing with addiction, rape, drinking yourself to death, sex, drugs and rock and roll. However she’s so clear, calm and honest about all of those and more that you just can’t put it down. Some of what she talks about here is impossibly affecting, I even shed tears in the essay that talks about infertility and childbirth. You’d have to have a stone heart not to.
William Wall – Grace’s Day
Grace and her family are living on an island off the west coast as the bizarre subject of the semi-truth based novels of her absent author father who gains fame and notoriety through their lives. But this is much more than just that story; it’s an incredible one of families, loss, truth, untruths and loves. Grace’s Day is so exquisitely written (a good sign is how many paragraphs you re-read in awe – there are many), the characters so fascinating and beautifully drawn that this can’t but be one of my favourite books of 2018.
Marianne Power – Help Me!
What starts out as a simple idea for a journalist looking to try something quirky (live your life by a different self-help book every month for a year) rapidly changes into something far more real and worthwhile as she explores just exactly what is wrong with her life and whether any of it can help her! Super stuff.
Yuval Noah Harari – 21 Questions For The 21st Century
From the man who brought you the still bestselling Sapiens and Homo Deus a book that addresses literally every major question of the 21st century from environment to religion to education to politics and beyond. Mind-altering.
Sally Rooney – Normal People
The biggest Irish novel of 2018 that is sweeping all before it, and rightly so. It’s real, full of insight, commentary on class, love, possession, stupidity and the incredible change that we are all capable of going through in a short, short time. The characters really started to dig themselves under my skin after a while and they never really left – I’ve read very little that is as good as it in 2018.
Sayaka Murata – Convenience Store Woman
I have a huge love for contemporary Japanese fiction and this reads *a little* like Eleanor Oliphant in Tokyo. Loved it.
Laura Lippman – Sunburn
I love classic noir, but it’s rare enough that you come across something brand new and set in more contemporary times that can go toe to toe with Chandler, Hammett or Cain. Laura Lippman does with this. It’s cracking…
Michael Hughes – Country
Don’t let the fact that it’s a retelling of Homer’s Iliad set in Northern Ireland during an IRA ceasefire in the 1990s put you off. It can be read just as easily as a nasty, real, thrilling story of troubled times with, again, my love for exquisite language.
Wendy Erskine – Sweet Home
Short story collections are a hard sell, even to me at times but these ones, all set in modern Northern Ireland, are so beautifully observed that I fell in love with them.
Sarah Perry – Melmoth
Set in modern-day Prague with a British expat main character who may (or may not?) have stumbled across a legend that’s seeping into reality. It’s a horror book, but only in the sense that it’s creepy, eerie and chilling rather than deeply shocking and terrifying. If, like me, you’re a fan of Victorian gothic, then this will be right down your dark, cobbled alleyway.
Haruki Murakami – Killing Commendatore
My last one of the year and a monster (600+ pages) and about a portrait painter whose wife breaks up with him and the strange happenings when he moves to a remote house once lived in my a famous Japanese artist. Full of the usual Murakami tropes (men living alone, eating alone, classical music, the word “simple”, magical realism and then stuff that’s just batshit.) I thoroughly enjoyed it.
More, as always, in The Rick O’Shea Book Club