2020 Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year

The 2020 Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award shortlist

The Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year award is one of my favourite awards. I have been following it for several years now and it has introduced me to some very good Irish fiction indeed, including The Cold Eye of Heaven by Christine Dwyer Hickey and  My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal.

Typically, the way the prize works is that no longlist is announced. Instead, a shortlist of five titles is revealed a couple of months before Listowel Writers’ Week and the winner of the prize is named on the opening night of the festival. This year, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, Writers’ Week has been cancelled and I was beginning to think the prize may be cancelled, too.

But then I discovered this article via Google, so I’m delighted to share the shortlist with you here. (The official website, which I’ve been checking on an almost daily basis for news of the prize, has also been updated, so you can read the official announcement here.)

Below is a list of the books, in alphabetical order by author name, with the publisher’s synopsis underneath. 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.

The five shortlisted novels are:

Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry

“It’s late one night at the Spanish port of Algeciras and two fading Irish gangsters are waiting on the boat from Tangier. A lover has been lost, a daughter has gone missing, their world has come asunder — can it be put together again?”

The River Capture by Mary Costello

“Luke O’Brien has left Dublin to live a quiet life on his family land on the bend of the River Sullane. Alone in his big house, he longs for a return to his family’s heyday and turns to books for solace. One morning a young woman arrives at his door and enters his life with profound consequences. Her presence presents him and his family with an almost impossible dilemma. The River Capture tells of one man’s descent into near madness, and the possibility of rescue. This is a novel about love, loyalty and the raging forces of nature. More than anything, it is a book about the life of the mind and the redemptive powers of art.”

(Lisa Hill has reviewed it here)

Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession

“Leonard and Hungry Paul  is the story of two friends who ordinarily would remain uncelebrated. It finds a value and specialness in them that is not immediately apparent and prompts the idea that maybe we could learn from the people that we overlook in life. Leonard and Hungry Paul change the world differently to the rest of us: we try and change it by effort and force; they change it by discovering the small things they can do well and offering them to others.”

Girl by Edna O’Brien

“Captured, abducted and married into Boko Haram, the narrator of this story witnesses and suffers the horrors of a community of men governed by a brutal code of violence. Barely more than a girl herself, she must soon learn how to survive as a woman with a child of her own. Just as the world around her seems entirely consumed by madness, bound for hell, she is offered an escape of sorts – but only into another landscape of trials and terrors amidst the unforgiving wilds of northeastern Nigeria, through the forest and beyond; a place where her traumas are met with the blinkered judgement of a society in denial.”

(Lisa Hill has reviewed it here)

Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor

“1878: The Lyceum Theatre, London. Three extraordinary people begin their life together, a life that will be full of drama, transformation, passionate and painful devotion to art and to one another. Henry Irving, the Chief, is the volcanic leading man and impresario; Ellen Terry is the most lauded and desired actress of her generation, outspoken and generous of heart; and ever following along behind them in the shadows is the unremarkable theatre manager, Bram Stoker.”

The winner of the €15,000 prize will be announced on 27 May. 

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. 

18 thoughts on “The 2020 Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award shortlist”

  1. Well, to my surprise I’ve read two of them, and was impressed by both: Girl by Edna O’Brien was the first I’ve read by her but I will now read more, and The River Capture by Mary Costello was also very good indeed. Do you want links to my reviews?


    1. The great thing about this prize is that they’re usually books that have been out for awhile and typically it will be a mix of books by well known authors and new authors. This means there’s a good chance you will have read one or two AND discovered a new-to-you name. I’ve never heard of Rónán Hession, for instance.

      I’m looking forward to reading the Costello because her previous novel Academy Street is one of the best books I have EVER read. I adored it. And while I rushed out and bought River Capture when it first came out, I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it because I’m fearful it won’t live up to expectations.

      I’ve just bought the O’Brien, which I’ve been eyeing up for months now. I’ve read a few of her novels (and once shared a lift with her & her publisher and was too star struck to say a word). She does very interesting things with language, I think. She’s not always easy to read. Her son, Carlo Gebler, is also worth reading.

      And yes, by all means share your links here 😊


  2. I spotted this prize on Twitter recently but had never come across it before. I can’t imagine why given how much I enjoy Irish writing but I’m glad to have found it. Sadly, having loved Academy Street, I found The River Capture a bit of a curate’s egg.


    1. I’ve wanted to go to Writers’ Week for years … I’m not sure how I first found out about it. I made plans to attend in 2016 but then got made redundant (for second time) so didn’t go. But it looks like a fun and supportive community of Irish writers and readers.

      Re: the new Mary Costello, I’ve been putting off reading it because I know it will be nigh on impossible to live up to my expectations having lives Academy Street so much. I think I’m going to have to go in with my expectations dampened right down.


    1. It always tends to be a very strong shortlist so I’m never quite sure how they determine a winner. I haven’t read them all yet, but I would love Shadowplay to win because it’s such a bold and original novel that plays around with structure and format but is immensely readable.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I keep putting off reading that one, only because I know it’s not going to live up to my expectations… but, you never know, I may be surprised 😮


        1. Is it based on Ulysses ? I didn’t know that. I’m nervous about reading it because her previous novel Academy Street was so unbelievably good and I’m afraid it won’t live up to my expectations. I’d put AS in my top 10 books of all time, that’s how good it is.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Oh right, now I have to add her first book to the list, but happy to try this one first! 🙂 Yes, there’s a connection to Ulysses, though even that was based on The Odyssey, so having recently and adored Circe without having read any of the myths, I think a fresh and contemporary approach is often a good starting place, before going back to read the oft ‘masculine’ interpretations.


          2. I’ve read Joyce’s Ulysses so will be interesting to see if that helps with this book. I have an aversion to the Greek myths. I steer away from modern novels said to be based on them. Just one of my little readerly quirks / prejudices.


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