15 Wonderful Irish Novels You Should Be Reading

By Katy Thornton / October 8, 2020

Irish novels, that is, novels written by Irish authors, are ever important on the literary scene. Some of the most famous novels in the world came from Irish minds, for example Ulysses, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Dracula. Ireland may be small but the literature is overflowing, with tons of Irish novels and authors to read from. This list just touches on some of the Irish novels any book nerd should be reading.

1. Skin Deep, Liz Nugent

Landscape Lake Ireland Island Irish Europe Water 4073084This novel is one of the best thrillers I’ve ever read. Skin Deep is Irish to the bone, in writing and in setting. It begins on the French Riviera, with a woman fleeing a crime scene. We’re then swiftly transported back in time, to the island of Inishcreen, where our protagonist Delia grew up, and the moulding of her devilish character began. Liz Nugent writes thrillers so brilliantly – they are the kind of novels that beg to be finished in one day. If you love psychological thrillers, Liz Nugent is a writer you simply can’t avoid reading. She puts Irish writers on the map for this genre.

2. After the Silence, Louise O’Neill

accident barrier caution caution tapeAfter the Silence is a new release by Irish author Louise O’Neill. It is set on Inisrun, a remote island off Cork with only 200 residents. One of these residents is anxiety bound Keelin Kinsella, a woman who’s lived as a recluse for 10 years since Nessa Crowley was found dead on her property after a party. The case was never solved, but Keelin and her husband Henry are regarded with suspicion a decade after the events. When two men come to the island to record a documentary, Henry sees this as an opportunity to clear their name – but what will they uncover in the process. This was O’Neill’s first thriller and it was a welcome one to the genre. 

3. A Line Made by Walking, Sara Baume

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Van Gogh painting the title was inspired by

The second novel by Sara Baume, A Line Made by Walking, so named after the Van Gogh painting to the left, is about Frankie, a 25 year old who has recently lost her grandmother. She’s an art student in Dublin and works part-time, but due to her immense grief, she flees to her grandmother’s house in the country. This is a wonderful piece of literary fiction that will hit a nerve with anyone who has experienced significant loss, and found themselves in a state of arrested development because of it. 

4. Dracula, Bram Stoker 

irish novelsWhat many people may not realise is that the iconic figure of Count Dracula came from an Irish writer. In 1897, Bram Stoker published Dracula, and though it is over 120 years old, it remains a spellbinding novel. It is absolutely timeless, besides the odd bit of strange language, so even if you’re not a bigger reader, you will still enjoy the original story of Dracula, and the band of men who fight to take him down. 

5. Normal People, Sally Rooney

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Trinity College, where much of Normal People is set

Normal People exploded in 2018 and has since become an incredibly successful TV series. It tells the story of two Irish teenagers from different worlds who find they can only confide in each other. It’s a classic story of miscommunication and wrong timing, but it resonated with Irish students everywhere, and their struggles with life and love. Connell and Marianne’s love story was the talk of social media during the months the TV series aired, and many have picked up the book to relive the tale. 

6. Exciting Times, Naoise Dolan

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Hong Kong, setting of Exciting Times

This Irish novel is based in Hong Kong, but the protagonist is from Dublin originally. Ava escapes to Hong Kong to find excitement. Her initial few weeks prove disappointing, until she meets Julian, a banker who offers for her to move in with him. It seems Ava has somewhat landed on her feet, and then she meets Edith, a lawyer who she can’t decide if she wants to be, or who she wants to be with. A fantastic novel by an Irish writer with global appeal. 

7. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

irish novelsThis is a classic tale warning of the fleeting nature of beauty. Dorian Gray is a socialite and a philanthropist; he appears to have everything his heart desires, except eternal youth. When a friend of his paints him a portrait, he wishes that the painting would age, and not him. Dorian gets his wish, but doesn’t expect the dastardly consequences. There’s a reason Oscar Wilde is one of Ireland’s most famous writers – The Picture of Dorian Gray is a classic and one of the best Irish novels there is.

8. Notes to Self, Emilie Pine

4424199420 d1431d9632 bIrish non-fiction writing doesn’t get better than this. Notes to Self is a series of creative nonfiction essays, detailing the trials and tribulations of womanhood. It talks about taboo subjects like body hair, bleeding, sexual assault, alcoholism, and infertility, and it does so with cut-throat honesty. It is an upsetting read at times, but an important one, and is bound to resonate with women everywhere, as these issues are not faced by Irish women alone.

9. All We Shall Know, Donal Ryan

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All We Shall Know is set in rural Ireland

All We Shall Know is one of the most beautiful Irish novels I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. When Melody Shee, a 33 year old teacher, gets pregnant with one of her 17 year old students, her life changes irrevocably. Her marriage can’t survive this blow, and she fears telling the baby’s father. In her greatest moment of need she befriends Mary Crothery, a young Traveller woman with the gift of sight. Together they try to negotiate this situation that Melody has gotten herself into. The story will haunt the reader, and is an Irish novel everyone should read.

10. Brooklyn, Colm Tóibín

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Brooklyn, 1950s

Most people will be familiar with the award winning film Brooklyn starring Saoirse Ronan. The novel however, should be read for it gives a much clearer picture of Éilís than the movie does. Éilís is at a standstill in her life in Ireland, and when an opportunity arises to go to America, she takes it.  She ends up in Brooklyn, taking night classes in bookkeeping, and working in a department store, and though she’s homesick at first, when she meets Tony, everything changes. One of the best Irish novels, it will capture your imagination as much as the film did and is the perfect coming-of-age narrative. 

11. The Gathering, Anne Enright

the gatheringAccording to Good Reads, “Anne Enright is a dazzling writer of international stature and one of Ireland’s most singular voices” and this rings true for anyone who has read her work. The Gathering is her masterpiece, earning her the 2007 Man Booker Prize – a devastating tale of a woman grieving her recently departed brother, that sends her on a reflective spiral on their shared childhood. This Irish novel demands to be read, demands to be heard, and demands to be thought of. It is a story that is harrowing and often uncomfortable, and one you won’t be able to forget. 

12. Ulysses, James Joyce

irish novelsJames Joyce may just be the most famous Irish writer of all time. His work often focuses on Dublin and Irish society. Ulysses, based on The Odyssey, takes place on one single day in Dublin, 1904. On 16th of June, our protagonist Leopold Bloom goes about his business and so begins Ulysses. His friends and wife also have chapters documenting their experiences. This is a difficult read, to be sure, but it is also one of the most famous Irish novels around, and so for any book lover, or fan of Irish literature, Ulysses is a must read.  

13. Star of the Sea, Joseph O’Connor

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Memorial for the coffin ships and those who died on them

Set during the Irish Famine, Star of the Sea is a tremendous work of fiction based on fact, that dives into one of the so-called “coffin ships” in 1847. This ship ferried people from Ireland to New York during this time of famine, where over one million people died, and two million people emigrated to America in hopes of a better life. This is one of the most important Irish novels, both in what it teaches its reader about the Famine, and in its beautiful storytelling.  

14. The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, Roddy Doyle

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Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle is one of Ireland’s most well loved authors, and his work is appreciated far and wide. The Woman Who Walked Into Doors is a story about domestic violence and a woman succumbing to alcoholism. Paula, the protagonist, can’t help but reminisce about her childhood, before all her suffering began. This novel is emotionally poignant and creeps into the bones of the reader, a tale both fascinating and heartbreaking. Roddy Doyle proves himself to be one of the greats when it comes to Irish writing with this novel. 

15. Dancer, Colum McCann 

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Colum McCann

Dancer is the story of Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev through the eyes of those that knew him best. This story proves that great Irish novels are not just Irish based or themed; they can and should be enjoyed on a universal level. McCann dives deep into the life of Nureyev, through four decades, focusing on crucial moments in history such as World War II. As The Guardian put it, “through their stories we see the restless, reckless boy grow into a ruthless artist and overbearing employer” when Nureyev is famously known for being unknown. A spectacular novel that depicts Ireland’s immense ability and talent for storytelling.

 

If you have any other Irish novels you love, please leave them in the comments below!

About the author

Katy Thornton

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