Around the Blocks of 2016

Does it happen to you that you can’t remember the books you read in the last year? Okay, you might know the more recent ones, but, whether it is advancing age or what, I’m having to scan various shelves and piles, both at home and in work, to recall the novels I read in 2016.

Not that I am a voracious reader. I give the usual excuse of time, together with being, well, a bit slow in the act of reading.

colum-mccann

Colum McCann

Anyway, here are the ones that stood out for me, along, in some cases, with a link to a blog post/review that I wrote on them.

Though published in 2015, I only got around to reading Colum McCann’s Thirteen Ways of Looking in 2016 after hearing a work colleague go on about it. It’s a novella (from which the book is titled) and three unconnected short stories. An unusual combination but one that worked for me. It is a while since I read it, so I won’t try and review it. I would just urge you to read it if you haven’t already done so.

What stayed with me was the sheer quality and beauty of McCann’s writing.

I’ve dug out one of the scenes from the novella that I remember. It’s when the main character (now an elderly judge in New York) recalls leaving Ireland as a young boy many decades ago.

“The day he left Dublin, oh, the day. It was bright and dappled, a surprise of sunshine. The hackney pulled up outside, a large silver car, an air horn on the side with a loud commanding blast. The bags were packed. The suitcase were loaded. He hid himself in the cupboard underneath the stairs. America. He didn’t want to go. Didn’t want to leave Ireland at all. But his father had a job offer. A letter had arrived. Elaborate handwriting. An eight-cent stamp with a picture of a twin-motored transport plane. An invitation, or maybe an accusation. Another continent. He was dragged out from underneath the stairs, shoved down the steps and into the waiting car. He glanced backwards through the rear window and there she was, Eileen Daly, all eleven years of her – or was she ten? – waving to him from the window of her living room. The white curtains bracketing her face. Her head slightly tilted. A few wisps of dark hair around her shoulders. Her lips pursed open ever so minutely, as if about to speak. He knew even then that he would see her this way forever, his mind had processed a photograph and seared itself on his brain. He wanted to turn to wave to her again, but the hackney had already reached the corner and he waved instead at a dirty brick wall.”

This second novel grabbed me, literally, by the scruff of the neck. The Blocks was the debut novel of Irish poet Karl Parkinson.

the-blocks-karl-parkinson-copy

This was a real work of original writing: both in substance and style. Here’s the link to my  blog post on it, which also contains a review I wrote for the Irish Examiner.

Karl Parkinson reading from The blocks

Karl Parkinson reading from The Blocks. Pic: Jacinta Leigh

I would encourage you to Google some of his audio work. For more check out @Kparkspoet

I also enjoyed Andrea Carter’s Death at Whitewater Church. A debut mystery novel from another Irish writer, it was a satisfying read: atmospheric; beautifully written and engaging. It is part of series and Andrea has since published Treacherous Strand. Here’s a link to my blog post on her first novel.

Death at whitewater church

Another Irish crime novel that I enjoyed was The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney. It’s a punky, literary tale, blistered with black-humour, right from the underbelly of Cork city.

glorious-heresies

Amid the large array of characters in the novel, one stayed with me: Maureen – a crazed, but clever, old bint and mother to a gang boss, who she creates a whole lot of bother for. She stole the show for me.

McInerney’s dialogue was top notch as was her evocation of the distinct Cork “C’mere, what d’you think you’re doing?” accent.

The book received considerable praise from the critics and scooped the Bailey’s Prize http://www.womensprizeforfiction.co.uk/title/the-glorious-heresies

She has a follow-up novel, due out this April, called The Blood Miracles.

For more on McInerney see http://www.lisamcinerney.com/

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About Cormac O'Keeffe

I am writing my first novel. Still. Well, I've finished it. I think. To tell you the truth, I've finished it so many times, I'm not sure anymore. In fact, I'm currently back finishing it again. It's a crime novel, an authentic gangland thriller set in Dublin. Including all the finishing, I've been at it for almost six years now. I've got a fair bit of good feedback and some requests for full manuscripts. But no one was bitten, yet. Where it will end up, who knows. This blog is about my journey. And other things, like fiction reviews and non-fiction reviews, many of them published in the Irish Examiner, a daily national newspaper in Ireland. I work as crime and drugs reporter there, and have been since around 2001. Both my personal life and my professional life have fed into my novel, or, rather, have poured into it. My novel was granted a literature bursary by the Irish Arts Council in September 2014 and my journalistic work has won multiple awards from the Law Society of Ireland over many years, most recently in 2015.
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