Autumn Reading


Now that the last of the summer wine has been quaffed and the first bruised cloud has appeared on the horizon, it’s time to concede the arrival of Autumn, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. It is always the busiest time of year for the publishing industry, just in time for the Christmas market.  This Autumn sees the publication of new novels from the heavy hitters in both British and Irish publishing. Of all years the harvest this Autumn is particularly bountiful with a succession of serious novels vying for readers attention. Some of my favourite authors have new novels out or just  coming out in the next few days and short of taking a permanent duvet day, I wonder how I will read them all over the next few weeks.


1.  The Dog by Joseph O’Neill – am disappointed that this fine novel didn’t make the Booker shortlist. It’s a great read for any fan of Netherland, again the themes of alienation and dislocation are explored, this time the protagonist has fled the U.S. for the glittering shores of Dubai. It’s an interesting immersion for any reader curious about the soulless civic life of Dubai, the truth behind the facade of this city in the desert sands.

2.  The Zone Of Interest by Martin Amis – Fans of Amis will enjoy his latest offering, his second novel exploring the Holocaust, this time Amis moves among multiple narrators to show the seemingly normal daily lives of those involved in the horror of Auschwitz. With his usual style and élan Amis creates a darkly comedic world peopled by grotesques and allows the reader to glimpse the outline of that which is beyond words.

3.  The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell – More entertainment from Mitchell and like the acclaimed “Cloud Atlas” interweaves large, related narratives, stretching from 1984 to 2043 and brings a variety of characters alive from Holly Sykes to Crispin Hershey, a successful English writer with just a whiff of the Martin Amis about him. Read it and enjoy.

4.  The Children’s Act by Ian McEwan – Read this for a peek inside the mind of Fiona Maye,a high court judge confronting both private and work-related dilemmas; a marriage crisis and a delicate legal situation involving a teenage Jehovah Witness refusing a blood transfusion to treat leukaemia.   What complicates matters is that the boy is no child and is about to turn eighteen. A must read for McEwan fans.

5.  Outline by Rachel Cusk – This novel which was serialised in the Paris Review is a new departure for Cusk. The narrator is a writer, a divorced mother of two boys who goes to Athens to teach a writing course and plunges straight into a very descriptive account of her first class, in which she asks each student to talk about something they noticed en route. Their anecdotes reveal the complexity of the emotional reality of their lives and the novel continues with descriptions of encounters with other people throughout the stay in Athens. There is no major plot development , no political axe to grind. Instead “Outline”, just as the narrator is rejecting a certain way of being in the world, is a new type of fiction reminiscent of the instrospecive brilliance of Virginia Woolf fused with the modern memoiristic canons by Karl Ove Knausgaard and Sheila Heti.

6.  Shark by Will Self – A sort of a sequel to “Umbrella”, fans of Self’s stream of consciousness and modernist style will delight in this novel peopled by a cast several dozen strong. Again a vehicle to show Self’s interest in the psychopathology of everyday life, the work is dense and a must read for any Jungian or Freudian scholars.

7.  Nora Webster by Colm Toibin – Lovers of Brooklyn will love this new novel by Toibin as he returns to Ireland in the late 60’s and follows the trials and triumphs of Nora Webster and her four children in the aftermath of her husband’s sudden death. Character and place take precedence over plot in this quiet and atmospheric novel.

8.   Funny Girl by Nick Hornby – From 1960’s Ireland to 1960’s London Hornby brings us on an adventure with the intrepid Sophie Straw as she transforms from a provincial ingenue to a television starlet where behind the scenes the cast and crew are having the time of their lives.  Due for publication in early November 2014 this latest novel from Hornby is predicted to be a big seller.

9. Us by David Nicholls – I was a huge fan of “One Day” and can only imagine how difficult it was for Nicholls to write the follow up. The publication of “Us” has been eagerly awaited by readers and I have just got my copy today. This novel takes us on a European tour with a mismatched couple. This is a picaresque and poignant tale of a marriage under strain, where the biochemist anti-hero Douglas Petersen undertakes an InterRailing trip across Europe with his wife Connie and teenage son Albie. The holiday becomes Doug’s last chance to win back the affections of his wife and son, a story told with affection and humour by  Nicholls whose skill as a writer helps to engage the reader’s empathy with all the characters. I expect it will be top of the list at all Book Clubs this year.




I was very interested to see who made the Man Booker Longlist published on July 25th because it’s the first year that American novelists could enter the ring. There had been much concern that the prize would be be hijacked by the American literary giants and leave British, Irish and Commonwealth authors for dust. A quick perusal of the list revealed that Britain has the strongest representation with six authors, including the Indian born Neel Mukherjee, with one Australian(Richard Flanagan) and the very brilliant Irish author Niall Williams who has published no fewer than nine novels.

Both Ireland and America can lay claim to Joseph O’Neill who is a hotly tipped contender for this year’s prize with his upcoming novel “The Dog,”published in September. When I read “Netherland” back in 2008 I was blown away by this writer who is incapable of writing a boring sentence and by the story of family, identity and politics cleverly crafted by O’Neill. When I saw his handsome face beaming from a page in Vogue and read the accompanying piece about his apartment in the Chelsea hotel and his very glamourous lifestyle it is safe to say reader that I was smitten. I brought his name to the attention of the literary committee of Listowel Writer’s Week that year to have it included in the contenders for the Kerry Group Fiction Prize. There was some debate on whether he was Irish and therefore eligible to be considered.

As a great lover of Fiction and no stranger to embellishment and with sheer brass neck I solved all dispute by declaring him to be a second cousin from a very tangled West Cork ancestry. The debate was solved and Joseph O’Neill flew to Ireland that year and collected the Kerry Group Fiction Prize for “Netherland.”
The Listowel Arms was rocking that night with opening night festival celebrations and like all great liars I trawled the bar area in search of the great Joseph so I could fill him in on our fake ancestral lineage. Unfortunately one of the committee was with him and with great Kerry theatricality introduced Joseph to his cousin Anne.
I was in an advanced state of exhaustion at that stage having had an extremely late night the previous night with a friend from London who had travelled to Listowel for the festival and like myself had a great ability to quaff vino and avoid bed.(Marella, you know who you are)
The great novelist ran with the plot, greeted me with a familial hug and even asked about the mythical Cork uncle. At that point a crowd had gathered, buoyed by the emotional story of the long lost cousin’s meeting. With the usual mass hysteria we were declared to be the image of each other, very alike around the eyes, another lady declared that we were like sister and brother. On the night in question my eyes were afflicted with an exhaustive stare which bore no resemblance to the novelist’s intelligent peepers.We had a drink outside with a few of my crew, a photo was taken, literature was discussed, I might even have sung Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel” really badly for him. It was a family affair. O’Neill for the Booker 2014 !