MixedThe Sunday Times (UK)... another high-concept premise designed to match the success of the crowd-pleasing \'five toasts\' structure in When All Is Said. Whether the saga of the Masterson’s funeral dynasty succeeds or \'strains credulity to a disruptive degree\'...is a question that will test the reader ... The tone wavers unconvincingly between flippancy and gravity ... Striving for pathos, the narrative too often descends into bathos ... episodes seem creepy and perhaps even a little blasé about serious real-life subjects. Yet the novel carries many of the winsome Irish signature traits we expect of Griffin. The intense love affair with Fionn and the caring relationship she shares with her autistic brother, Mikey, are sensitively handled. Aunt Harry, best friend Peanut and Arthur the postman are strong characterisations, although the final twist concerning her father seems contrived and inconsequential to the story. High-concept premises tend to capture their essence in the title, and Listening Still is no exception. The problem is the listening part comes to dominate the story, and a feeling persists that under all the hokum a pretty good story is dying to make itself heard.
John McGahern, ed. Frank Shovlin
PositiveThe Sunday Times (UK)Frank Shovlin has clearly done Trojan work, but the general reader might have wished for more stringent editing because too many letters are taken up with tepid prattle about meetings, invites, house moves and health issues .... At the same time, there is much to savour. Human beings are complex, often wildly self-contradictory, and McGahern was no exception.
RaveThe Sunday Times (UK)... a quietly devastating collection of short stories that brilliantly portrays the pervasive sense of hopelessness that immobilised us during the dog days of Covid ... Lest he be accused of focusing too much on men and their sense of victimhood, the countervailing magnificence of his women is worth noting. Part of Doyle’s genius resides in a kind of bathetic amusement at the follies of his male characters and always it’s the stoical good sense of women that saves the day ... Another of his great strengths is the ability to drop in those little epiphanies that resolve the tension and conflict of a story in a single significant moment ... Doyle breaks our free fall into despair by emphasising the redemptive power of humour, love and the kindness of strangers.
RaveThe Times (UK)The Nora that leaps off these pages is at once muse, temptress, earth mother and warrior queen all rolled into one glorious package ... in granting first-person narrative rights to Nora, O’Connor positions her protagonist centre-stage to charm readers with her winning blend of native pragmatism and vernacular wit ... Nora’s voice never grates or wavers throughout this warm, sensuous and thoroughly convincing biographical novel.
Doireann Ní Ghríofa
RaveThe Times (UK)The prose debut of acclaimed poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa. Billed as a genre-busting blend of \'autofiction, essay, scholarship, sleuthing and literary translation\', the book is an extraordinary feat of ventriloquism delivered in a lush, lyrical prose that dazzles readers from the get-go ... This is one wonder of the book, the way in which Ní Ghríofa lets her mind flit freely between the domestic present and the drama of the past in the poem itself. As the symmetry of poetic voices is established, Ní Chonaill and Ní Ghríofa become soulmates ... Suddenly the work is over and the brutal self-assessment is delivered ... The book’s triumph rests on several factors: the translation project is admirable; the authorial voice is empathetic; the treatment of issues that may not reflect well on the author are delivered with honesty; and, above all, the language is sumptuous, almost symphonic, in its intensity. When you can write like this, there is almost nothing a writer cannot get away with ... She is particularly good on the joys and traumas of childbirth, female desire and the ravages life can visit on the female body ... As readers, we should be grateful for her boldness. Without it, we would not have had one of the best books of this dreadful year.
PositiveThe TimesIt’s that rare thing, a tender straight-ahead love story which convinces thoroughly while steering clear of the fashionably dysfunctional and transgressive relationships that dominate so much contemporary fiction ... Michael’s desperate search for love is plausibly presented, but Caitlin’s story is less convincing and skirts the border of cliché a little too closely ... O’Callaghan’s significant achievement in this fine novel is to retain our sympathy for the two lovers. Unlike in other novels on the theme of adultery, neither the writer nor his readers are tempted to judge the star-crossed lovers too harshly ... Good books remind us of other good books and in its treatment of adultery this one calls to mind thematic ancestors such as Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina and The Scarlet Letter. It also reminded me of the Alan Alda romcom Same Time, Next Year and, in its ending on the train, of the classic Brief Encounter. All that’s missing is the Rachmaninov.
PositiveThe Times (UK)\"Caoilinn Hughes’s highly ambitious fiction debut contains multitudes. In fact, it’s so multitudinous that it’s hard to know where to start. What is it? Bildungsroman? Picaresque? Novel of ideas? State of the nation critique? Philosophical treatise? Cultural literacy primer? In truth, it’s all of these and then some; the quintessential \'baggy monster\' of a novel, even at a modest yet action-packed 337 pages ... Less a carefully plotted novel, more a series of loosely connected escapades, it has faint echoes of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, which also features rococo plot variations, singular protagonists and skulduggery in the art world ... Poet-novelists have a tendency to overelaborate linguistically and, for all the swing and flow of Hughes’s bravura prose, there are passages which are overwritten to the point of self-parody ... Still, I predict that most readers are going to love her.\
RaveThe Times (UK)Dan Sheehan’s debut novel is ambitious, rambunctious and extremely accomplished. Ambitious, in so far as it addresses daunting and complex issues; rambunctious, in its wild, road-trippy exuberance; and accomplished because it combines these elements with style, wit and compassion. At a time when contemporary fiction is being dominated more and more by arid and self-indulgent experimentalism, it’s refreshing to discover a writer who is holding true to the solid virtues of story, character and voice ... the writer has an acute sense of local colour ... time-shifting and dual narrative can be confusing for the reader but here the effects are seamlessly interwoven. The prose style, full of vibrant wise-cracking energy, can turn on a dime into a controlled lyricism befitting serious subjects such as PTSD, mental health and the nature of masculinity, toxic or otherwise ... Too many recent novels have wallowed in nostalgie de la boue without recourse to our better angels. Restless Souls is an honourable exception, and all the more welcome for it.