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Ciarán Carty’s The Republic of Elsewhere is a fascinating collection of interviews with writers. Anyone interested in literature would find it a pleasurable and revealing read. I loved Rob Doyle’s anthology, The Other Irish Tradition, for its vividness and range. Emilie Pine’s really remarkable Notes to Self opens new territory for Irish nonfiction writing, as, in a different way, does Arnold Thomas Fanning’s wonderful Mind on Fire. This year, I read all the novels and short stories of an English writer whose work I love, Elizabeth Taylor, who died in 1975. Her gasp-inducing Angel is dark and funny. I found Donal Ryan’s novel From a Low and Quiet Sea haunting and its voices utterly persuasive. Melatu Uche Okorie’s This Hostel Life marks the arrival of a powerful storyteller with news of what’s been going on in one of the hidden Irelands. In poetry, I found myself coming back to two collections: John Kelly’s Notions and Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s Lies.
Milkman by Anna Burns is undoubtedly my book of the year. It surprised me to hear reviewers cite it as difficult; for me the only challenge came with the oftentimes chilling cruelty of the protagonist’s fractured existence and enduring the gut-wrenching blows which her narrative delivered. The story of “the girl who walks and reads” is utterly compelling with stylish, confident, artistic execution. It really is a triumph and so deserving of the Man-Booker win and all the readers which that accolade should attract. Another major prizewinner that knocked my socks off this year was Less by Andrew Sean Greer: a bittersweet comedy of the literary world that I devoured in one blissful sitting. In non-fiction, Brett Anderson’s memoir Coal Black Morning recounting his life before Suede and the incredible Deborah Levy’s The Cost of Living offered inspirational insights that remained percolating in my mind long after reading. Finally, for poetry lovers, I can’t recommend John Kelly’s collection, Notions, enough.
Helen Cullen’s debut novel is The Lost Letters of William Woolf