It seems like book prize short- and longlists are coming thick and fast right now. Today the shortlist for one of my favourite literary prizes — the Kerry Group Novel of the Year for Irish fiction — was announced.
Over the years this prize, which is worth €15,000 to the winner, has introduced me to some brilliant novels, including The Cold Eye of Heaven by Christine Dwyer Hickey and My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal, so I usually pay attention to it in the hope it will introduce me to a few more.
As per tradition, the winner will be announced at Writers’ Week at Listowel, in Kerry, Ireland on 29 May. Before then I hope to have read all five titles on the shortlist; I’ve already had one and all the others are on my TBR.
Below is a list of the books, in alphabetical order by author name, including a synopsis. Hyperlinks will take you to my reviews. Do keep coming back to this post as I will update the hyperlinks as and when I review each title.
A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
“You’ve heard the old proverb about ambition, that it’s like setting a ladder to the sky. It can lead to a long and painful fall. If you look hard enough, you will find stories pretty much anywhere. They don’t even have to be your own. Or so would-be-novelist Maurice Swift decides early on in his career. A chance encounter in a Berlin hotel with celebrated author Erich Ackerman gives Maurice an opportunity. For Erich is lonely, and he has a story to tell; whether or not he should is another matter. Once Maurice has made his name, he finds himself in need of a fresh idea. He doesn’t care where he finds it, as long as it helps him rise to the top. Stories will make him famous, but they will also make him beg, borrow and steal. They may even make him do worse. This is a novel about ambition.”
The Hoarder by Jess Kidd (NB: in the US, this book is published under the title Mr Flood’s Last Resort)
“Unintentional psychic Maud Drennan arrives to look after Cathal Flood, a belligerent man hiding in his filthy, cat-filled home. Her job is simple: clear the rubbish, take care of the patient. But the once-grand house has more to reveal than simply its rooms. There is a secret here, and whether she likes it or not, Maud may be the one to finally uncover what has previously been kept hidden…”
The Cruelty Men by Emer Martin
“Abandoned by her parents when they resettle in Meath, Mary O Conaill faces the task of raising her younger siblings alone. Padraig is disappeared, Sean joins the Christian Brothers, Bridget escapes and her brother Seamus inherits the farm. Maeve is sent to serve a family of shopkeepers in the local town. Later, pregnant and unwed, she is placed in a Magdalene Laundry where her twins are forcibly removed. Spanning the 1930s to the 70s, this sweeping multi-generational family saga follows the psychic and physical displacement of a society in freefall after independence. Wit, poetic nuance, vitality and authenticity inhabit this remarkable novel. The Cruelty Men tells an unsentimental tale of survival in a country proclaimed as independent but subjugated by silence.”
Travelling in a Strange Land by David Park
“The world is shrouded in snow. With transport ground to a halt, Tom must venture out into a transformed and treacherous landscape to collect his son, sick and stranded in student lodgings. But on this solitary drive from Belfast to Sunderland, Tom will be drawn into another journey, one without map or guide, and is forced to chart pathways of family history haunted by memory and clouded in regret. Travelling in a Strange Land is a work of exquisite loss and transformative grace. It is a novel about fathers and sons, grief, memory, family and love; about the gulfs that lie between us and those we love, and the wrong turns that we take on our way to find them.”
Normal People by Sally Rooney
“Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. When they both earn places at Trinity College in Dublin, a connection that has grown between them lasts long into the following years. This is an exquisite love story about how a person can change another person’s life — a simple yet profound realisation that unfolds beautifully over the course of the novel. It tells us how difficult it is to talk about how we feel and it tells us — blazingly — about cycles of domination, legitimacy and privilege. Alternating menace with overwhelming tenderness, Sally Rooney’s second novel breathes fiction with new life.”
Have you read any of these books? Or have any piqued your interest? Please do feel free to join in and read one or two or perhaps the entire shortlist with me. There’s just over 10 weeks to do it!