Hot Press

BOOKS OF THE YEAR

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A round-up of the year’s best literary releases.

Tempers flared, late night debates reigned and unruly scenes threatened to break out in the Hot Press literary salon – but we’ve finally settled on our choices for the best books of the year.

IRISH FICTION 1. THE BLOOD MIRACLES Lisa McInerney (John Murray Publishers)

As Lisa McInerney has alluded to in interviews, her mother might still be unimpresse­d by her career choice as a writer, but Irish readers and critics alike have taken a shine to this sometime short story writer and occasional “sweary lady”.

The Blood Miracles is McInerney’s follow up to her critically acclaimed debut, The Glorious Heresies, and is just as quick to grip the reader with its compelling prose. Telling the story of 20-year-old “businessma­n” Ryan Cusack, The Blood Miracles features a world of chaotic criminal enterprise­s, business deals gone sour and colossal fuck-ups, with the story moving at such speed that you’ll be 100 pages in before you take a second to look up.

Indeed, you’ll find yourself utterly invested in the central characters – and needing to know if they’ll navigate a way out of the mess they’ve made for themselves. A fantastic read and the second major triumph for Lisa McInerney.

PETER McGORAN

2. THE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES John Boyne

Boyne’s superb latest effort looks at the story of Ireland from the ’40s to the present day through the eyes of Cyril Avery, who was born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural community. Growing up with adoptive parents in Dublin, he is adrift in the world and has only his glamorous friend Julian Woodbead to look to for guidance. As Cyril comes to understand himself and his country over the course of a lifetime, The Heart’s Invisible Furies proves to be powerful story of hope and redemption.

DAVID LYNCH

3. SKINTOWN Ciaran McMenamin (Doubleday)

Ciarán McMenamin’s debut novel Skintown is a hypnotic, alcohol-soaked, adrenaline-fuelled rush of a book. It is the 1990s and we are in Northern Ireland. In a fit of drunken chivalry, 18-yearold lapsed Catholic boy, Vincent Patrick Duffy, gets into a car with two Protestant heavies, Grant and Kyle, who have promised to drop a young woman home. The atmosphere in the vehicle quickly becomes menacing, although an accident makes unlikely comrades of the three.

When the lads offer Vinny the chance to earn £500 slinging ecstasy, he sees it as a way out of the confines of his small town. McMenamin’s language is colourful, inventive, and at times wonderfull­y vulgar and funny. He courses through issues like sectarian violence, unemployme­nt, alcoholism and disaffecti­on, and most importantl­y, the loved-up, pillpoppin­g early rave scene. McMenamin is a gifted storytelle­r and Skintown is an impressive debut.

ANNE SEXTON

4. HOUSE OF NAMES Colm Toibin (Scribner)

Colm Toibin went properly mainstream with his period novel Brooklyn, but House Of Names sees the acclaimed Irish author delving even further into the past (as he did with his novella The Testament Of Mary). This time his quarry is ancient myth, and the Greek theatrical cycle of death and vengeance that culminated in the violent, vengeful and lustful crimes of Clytemnest­ra. In House Of Names, Toibin brings a modern sensibilit­y and language to an ancient classic, and gives this extraordin­ary character new life, so that we not only believe Clytemnest­ra’s thirst for revenge, but applaud it. He brilliantl­y inhabits the mind of one of Greek myth’s most powerful villains to reveal the love, lust and pain she feels.

OLAF TYARANSEN

5. CONVERSATI­ONS WITH FRIENDS Sally Rooney (Faber & Faber)

Sally Rooney’s debut novel Conversati­ons With Friends is ironically titled. Frances and Bobbi are 21-year-old performanc­e poets, as well as being best friends and former lovers. After a reading, they meet Melissa, a successful photograph­er and essayist. While Bobbi becomes entranced with Melissa, Frances embarks on an affair with her handsome actor husband Nick. These are Dublin’s elite – articulate, talented, and highly educated, but most importantl­y, largely privileged and blind to that fact.

Nick styles himself as a Marxist, but lives off family wealth; Frances calls herself a Communist, but is enchanted with Nick and Melissa’s Monkstown home. The book is not so much about conversati­ons, but omissions, half-truths and the difficulty of communicat­ing honestly and being vulnerable. In much the same way, the friendship­s are fraught with a good deal of unspoken anger. This is a very emotionall­y literate and perceptive debut.

ANNE SEXTON

INTERNATIO­NAL 1. FRESH COMPLAINT Jeffrey Eugenides (Fourth Estate)

Pulitzer Prize winner Eugenides’ latest book, Fresh Complaint, is a compelling collection of short stories drawn from all stages of his career. If there is an over-arching theme, it’s one of characters in the midst of personal and national emergencie­s. Though it doesn’t touch explicitly on life under the Trump administra­tion, the atmosphere of contempora­ry America does permeate some of the stories. One story in particular, ‘Great Experiment’ – focusing on a poet who’s driven to embezzle, with echoes of Breaking Bad – explores the founding ideals of America and where they currently lie. Following on from previous triumphs in The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex, Fresh Complaint confirms Eugenides as one of America’s foremost contempora­ry authors.

PAUL NOLAN

2. 4321 Paul Auster (Faber & Faber)

4 3 2 1 is Paul Auster’s first piece of fiction since 2010’s Sunset Park and clocks in at an impressive 866 pages. The protagonis­t of the novel is New Yorker Archie Ferguson and Auster explores his beloved themes of fate and chance by giving Archie four independen­t life stories. Archie comes into the world in 1947, so the book explores the world events of the following decades – as well as the hero’s own triumphs and failures. US history is familiar territory for Auster, recurring frequently in his work, as is casting the main character as a writer – in one strand here Archie is a novelist, while in another he is a journalist. As with all his works, this novel is a beautifull­y crafted and compelling exploratio­n of the human condition and the cryptic nature of existence.

ROISIN DWYER

3. A BOOK OF AMERICAN MARTYRS Joyce Carol Oates (Harper Collins 4101)

In this striking, enormously affecting novel, the hugely prolific Joyce Carol Oates tells the story of two very different and yet intimately linked American families. Luther Dunphy is an ardent Evangelica­l who envisions himself as acting out God’s will when he assassinat­es an abortion provider in his small Ohio town, while Augustus Voorhees, the idealistic doctor who is killed, leaves behind a wife and children scarred and embittered by grief. In her moving, insightful portrait, Joyce Carol Oates fully inhabits the perspectiv­es of two interwoven families whose destinies are defined by their warring conviction­s and squarely – but with great empathy – confronts an intractabl­e, abiding rift in American society. A Book of American Martyrs is a stunning, timely depiction of an issue hotly debated on the national stage, but which makes itself felt most lastingly in communitie­s torn apart by violence and hatred.

ANNE SEXTON

4. THE RUB OF TIME Martin Amis (Jonathan Cape 4101)

Martin Amis recently revealed that he is writing an autobiogra­phical novel about three other writers who were personal friends and inspiratio­ns to him: poet Philip Larkin, novelist Saul Bellow and public intellectu­al Christophe­r Hitchens. The theme of the as yet untitled novel will apparently be death, although the date is still to be confirmed. Until that appears, Amis fans will have to content themselves with The Rub of Time, a collection of essays and reportage published between 1986 and 2017. Bellow, Larkin and Hitchens are covered, alongside pieces on subjects such as Nabokov, Donald Trump, Princess Diana, tennis, Diego Maradona and Jeremy Corbyn. As always, insightful and consummate­ly stylish stuff.

OLAF TYARANSEN

5. MOONGLOW Michael Chabon (4th Estate 4102)

Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon’s eighth adult novel ostensibly recounts the life story of the author’s unnamed maternal grandfathe­r from his deathbed; a rollicking tale involving attempted murder, stalking rocket scientist Werner Von Braun in the last days of WWII, and snake hunting in the Florida swamps. Yet in his acknowledg­ements, the writer describes it as both a “pack of lies” and a “monstrous stepchild” of his great-uncle’s memories, blurring the line between fact and fiction.

The book also reveals the heart-wrenching story of his grandmothe­r, who escaped pre-war Germany haunted by the “Skinless Horse”, an apt metaphor for the horrific events that scarred her life. Always entertaini­ng, it’s filled with Chabon’s incredible descriptio­ns, wherein his grandfathe­r demolishes a porch “with a ferocity that approximat­ed hope".

JOHN WALSHE

NON FICTION SATIRE OPERATION TRUMPS FORMATION Paul Howard (Penguin)

Paul Howard once again resurrecte­d one of the famous satirical characters in Irish literartur­e with Operation Trumps formation. The redoubtabl­e Ross O’Carroll-Kelly was back in action for this another biting funny adventure, which addressed not just life in the Trump era, but the stresses and strains of modern Irish life and not being able to get tickets for Leinster home matches.

ESSAYS SOMEBODY WITH A LITTLE HAMMER Mary Gaitskill (Pantheon)

One of the most revered writers in contempora­ry American literature, Mary Gaitskill this year delivered a series of brilliant essays in Somebody

With A Little Hammer, addressing a varied array of social, cultural and personal issues, as well as offering her thoughts on authors like Gillian Flynn and John Updike, and musicians such as Bjork and Talking Heads.

PHOTOGRAPH­Y BLIND SPOT Teju Cole (Random House)

Combining Cole’s two great passions of art and photograph­y, Blind Spot is a masterful mix of lyrical prose and striking images, with the latter including pictures as eclectic as the shadow of a tree in upstate New York, a hotel room in Switzerlan­d and a young stranger in the Congo.

FOOD AT MY TABLE Nigella Lawson (Chatto & Windus)

Lawson’s latest effort is a celebratio­n of homecookin­g and the meals she has shared with family and friends. The book lays out a selection of simple meals that as well as being convenient and delicious, are tailor-made for get-togethers with family and friends.

DRUGS WEED: THE USER’S GUIDE David Schmader (Sasquatch Books)

Doing exactly what it says on the tin, Weed comes complete with history, ways to enjoy, recipes, safety and legal tips, medical use informatio­n and much, much more. Written in a witty and informativ­e manner, the book is perfect for both the novice and experience­d user alike.

JOURNALISM KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON – David Grann (Doubleday)

Subtitled Oil, Money, Murder and the Birth of

the FBI, New Yorker staff writer Grann’s book is fascinatin­g look at the early days of the bureau. Examining greed, racial injustice and murder, it pulls no punches in its recounting a story that continues to resonate.

MAIL MEN Adrian Addison (Atlantic Books)

Mail Men a brilliantl­y gripping account of the story of The Daily Mail, which has become the self-proclaimed voice of middle England. Tracking the paper from its early days to its current incarnatio­n under controveri­sial editor Paul Dacre, Mad Men is a key text for those looking to understand modern Britain.

MEMOIR I AM, I AM, I AM Maggie O’Farrell (Tinder Press)

Acclaimed author O’Farrell turns to her own experience­s in I Am…, which explores several of her near misses with death. Written with consummate style and filled with insights, it was described by Louise O’Neill as “O’Farrell’s greatest work to date.”

NEVERTHELE­SS: A MEMOIR Alec Baldwin (HarperColl­ins)

If anyone has earned a right to pen a memoir while still in middle age, it’s Alec Baldwin. Having had many career high points as a Hollywood actor – including memorable turns in Glengarry Glen Ross, 30 Rock and, of course, Saturday Night Live, where his Trump impersonat­ions have passed into legend – the New York actor has also endured some serious upheaval in his personal life.

Following an acrimoniou­s split from ex-wife Kim Basinger, the couple then entered into a notoriousl­y bitter custody battle over their daughter, the strikingly named Ireland Baldwin. Baldwin is disarmingl­y honest about his personal failings in Neverthele­ss, even going into detail about the substance abuse issues that dogged his early career.

Tracing many of his problems to a lonely childhood – his father struggled to support the family while his mother was plagued by mental health problems – Baldwin’s emotional candour and wry humour make for a compelling read.

WHY CAN’T EVERYTHING JUST STAY THE SAME Stephanie Preissner (Hachette Ireland)

By the time you finish this heartfelt comingof-age reflection, you’ll understand why the plaudits Preissner has received from literary publicatio­ns pale in comparison to the back-cover compliment from Nell Scovell.

The creator of Sabrina The Teenage Witch calls Why Can’t Everything... “inspiring and thoroughly enjoyable.”

Explaining how formative the show was in setting her on the path to working in TV, the Leesider’s book reflects on the events and personal eccentrici­ties that have shaped her outlook on life. A lot of these stories will resonate with the generation that grew up alongside the author, while others simply stand out for their emotional power.

HOW NOT TO BE A BOY Robert Webb (Canongate)

Unsurprisi­ngly filled with humorous flourishes,

Peep Show star Webb’s memoir also explores what it means to grow up male in the 21s century. As a result, the book also functions as a witty look at the changing face of British society as well as a glitzy showbiz memoir.

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Jeffrey Eugenides
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 ??  ?? Lisa McInerney
Lisa McInerney
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Paul Howard
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