- 30 Jun 17
For our 40th Anniversary, we asked four of Ireland's most prominent writers to give us their top 10 books since 1977.
1 London Fields
Martin Amis (1989)
I could have gone for Don DeLillo’s Underworld or Michael Tolkin’s The Player, or indeed a few others for number one, but something about the fact that Martin Amis has never won the Booker Prize persuades me to grant him this signal honour.
I believe that whole Booker culture has done some terrible harm to the novel, making it akin to a contest for some lofty academic post, and that Amis’s exclusion can only be a powerful recommendation in itself.
Rather than composing “a meditation on memory and loss” on the part of some jaded professor, Amis brings us true English people like the darts player Keith Talent: “First leg of the second set I was way back and he goes ton-forty and has three darts at a double 16. When he shitted that I knew then that victory was there for the taking. In the third leg of the vital second set I punished his sixties and then – the 153 kill. Treble 20, treble 19, double 18. Champion darts. Exhibition.” Amis is a virtuoso.
2 Smiley’s People
John le Carre (1979)
Two seemingly unconnected events heralded the summons of Mr. George Smiley from his dubious retirement”.
It is a fine first line and le Carre is such a fine writer, creating this world which is peopled by very bright but deeply unhappy individuals, a world which is terrible but still perversely attractive.
I also like the fact that you don’t really know what’s going on most of the time, but somehow you don’t mind.
Don DeLillo (1997)
If you read nothing else in your life, you must read the first section of this book which recreates a famous baseball game in New York in 1951, in which Bobby Thomson of the Giants hit the home run that became The Shot Heard Around the World.
If you want to know what the rest of the second half of the 20th century was like, this would also be the book.
4 The Player
Michael Tolkin (1988)
I loved this brutal tale of the movie business so much, that I was quite disappointed by the movie version, even though it was directed by Robert Altman and starred Tim Robbins and was perfectly good all round by any normal standards. The screenplay was even written by the author himself, Michael Tolkin. He just couldn’t improve on his masterpiece.
WG Sebald (2002)
The one flaw in this magnificent work of art is that if you are in any way inclined to write books yourself, after reading this you just might not bother anymore.
6 The Executioner’s Song
Norman Mailer (1979)
There is a great need for novelists like Mailer, who do not live behind the walls of universities, but who are out in the world causing trouble wherever they can. And who write powerful sentences too.
John Banville (1981)
I was enormously impressed by this when it first came out, by the very idea of an Irish novelist writing about a German mathematician and astronomer of the 17th century, and writing it with such elegance.
8 A Brief History Of Seven Killings
Marlon James (2015)
I include this even though it won the Booker Prize, because it seemed to suggest they had realised at last that rock and roll – in this case reggae – was the great art form of our time. I could have done with about 300 fewer pages of this, but the first 300 or so leading to the attempted killing of Bob Marley are tremendous.
9 Oscar And Lucinda
Peter Carey (1988)
One of the great books about gambling.
10 The Waking Of Willie Ryan
John Broderick (2004)
I squeeze this in because it may have been written in 1965, but it was reissued by Lilliput in 2004. I grew up near Broderick’s house in Athlone. He was the first actual writer I ever encountered, but I did not know how special this book is, probably because it was disgracefully neglected until Lilliput rescued it. And even then it was neglected. Crucially, it deals with the grand old Irish pastime of incarcerating unusual or just gay people in the asylum. It was a brave and brilliant book and ahead of its time.