2023 Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year, Literary prizes

The 2023 Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award shortlist

Farewell Stella Prize reading season, hello Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award reading season!

Yes, no sooner does one literary prize announce its winner than another reveals a shortlist — albeit on opposite sides of the world! My favourite literary prize — the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award, which I’ve been following since 2017 — has unveiled its shortlist^^ of five novels.

This award, which is worth €20,000 to the winner, has previously introduced me to some very fine Irish fiction, including Nuala O’Connor’s Nora, Lisa Harding’s Bright Burning Things, Anakana Schofield’s Bina and Kevin Barry’s Night Boat to Tangier. In fact, I don’t think I have ever come across a dud novel shortlisted for this prize.

Last year, Claire Keegan won the award for her novella Small Things Like These.

This year’s judges, Patrick Gale and Manveen Rana, have a lot to live up to! They have selected five novels (from more than 50 submitted), which all look tempting. I’ve previously read one, Trespasses by Louise Kennedy, and I have The Colony and The Amusements on my TBR already, so my usual mission to read everything on the shortlist should be straightforward.

Here’s the shortlist, arranged in alphabetical order by author surname, with the publisher’s synopsis underneath:

‘The Witches of Vardø’ by Anya Bergman

Norway, 1662. A dangerous time to be a woman, when even dancing can lead to accusations of witchcraft. After recently widowed Zigri’s affair with the local merchant is discovered, she is sent to the fortress at Vardø to be tried as a witch. Zigri’s daughter Ingeborg sets off into the wilderness to try to bring her mother back home. Accompanying her on this quest is Maren – herself the daughter of a witch – whose wild nature and unconquerable spirit gives Ingeborg the courage to venture into the unknown, and to risk all she has to save her family. Also captive in the fortress is Anna Rhodius, once the King of Denmark’s mistress, who has been sent in disgrace to the island of Vardø. What will she do – and who will she betray – to return to her privileged life at court? These Witches of Vardø are stronger than even the King. In an age weighted against them, they refuse to be victims. They will have their justice. All they need do is show their power.

‘The Geometer Lobachevsky’ by Adrian Duncan

It is 1950 and Nikolai Lobachevsky, great-grandson of his illustrious namesake, is surveying a bog in the Irish Midlands, where he studies the locals, the land and their ways. One afternoon, soon after he arrives, he receives a telegram calling him back to Leningrad for a ‘special appointment’. Lobachevsky may not be a great genius but he is not foolish: he recognises a death sentence when he sees one and leaves to go into hiding on a small island in the Shannon estuary, where the island families harvest seaweed and struggle to split rocks. Here Lobachevsky must think about death, how to avoid it and whether he will ever see his home again.

‘The Amusements’ by Aingeala Flannery

In the seaside town of Tramore, County Waterford, visitors arrive in waves with the tourist season, reliving the best days of their childhoods in its caravan parks, chippers and amusement arcades. Local teenager Helen Grant is indifferent to the charm of her surroundings; she dreams of escaping to art college with her glamorous classmate Stella Swaine and, from there, taking on the world. But leaving Tramore is easier said than done. Though they don’t yet know it, Helen and Stella’s lives are pulled by tides beyond their control. Following the Grant and Swaine families and their neighbours over three decades, The Amusements is a luminous and unforgettable story about roads taken and not taken – and a brilliantly observed portrait of a small-town community.

‘Trespasses’ by Louise Kennedy

There is nothing special about the day Cushla meets Michael, a married man from Belfast, in the pub owned by her family. But here, love is never far from violence, and this encounter will change both of their lives forever. As people get up each morning and go to work, school, church or the pub, the daily news rolls in of another car bomb exploded, another man beaten, killed or left for dead. In the class Cushla teaches, the vocabulary of seven-year-old children now includes phrases like ‘petrol bomb’ and ‘rubber bullets’. And as she is forced to tread lines she never thought she would cross, tensions in the town are escalating, threatening to destroy all she is working to hold together. Tender and shocking, Trespasses is an unforgettable debut of people trying to live ordinary lives in extraordinary times.

‘The Colony’ by Audrey Magee

He handed the easel to the boatman, reaching down the pier wall towards the sea. Mr Lloyd has decided to travel to the island by boat without an engine – the authentic experience. Unbeknownst to him, Mr Masson will also soon be arriving for the summer. Both will strive to encapsulate the truth of this place – one in his paintings, the other by capturing its speech, the language he hopes to preserve. But the people who live on this rock – three miles long and half a mile wide – have their own views on what is being recorded, what is being taken and what is given in return. Soft summer days pass, and the islanders are forced to question what they value and what they desire. As the autumn beckons, and the visitors head home, there will be a reckoning.

Do keep coming back to this post as I will update the hyperlinks as and when I review each title.

You can read more about the prize via the official announcement.

Have you read any of these novels? Or is there anything on the list that particularly intrigues you?

^^ No longlist is announced for this annual prize. Instead, a shortlist is revealed about a month before Listowel Writers’ Week — Ireland’s oldest literary festival — and the winner is named on the opening night of the festival. This year the festival runs from 31st May to 4th June.

19 thoughts on “The 2023 Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award shortlist”

  1. Hello, I have read The Colony & Trespasses, loved both. I would quite happily reread both. I have The Amusements and am keen to read the other two as well.


  2. I had mixed feelings about Trespasses too, I’m interested in The Colony. Great prize to follow Kim. I read a lot of Irish fiction, so always keen to add to the TBR before March when Cathy’s #ReadingIreland rolls around.


    1. I’ve read The Colony but not yet reviewed it. It’s my favourite of the shortlist and I’d go so far as to say it’s the best book I’ve read all year. It’s a brilliant allegory on colonisation.

      Liked by 1 person

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