John Boyne, author of A Ladder to the Sky
I loved Markus Zusak’s Bridge of Clay. It’s his first novel in 13 years – since the classic The Book Thief – and tells the story of five rough and tumble brothers, their relationship with each other and with their father who abandoned them at the moment of their greatest need. It’s often very funny but it also has a deep emotional core and a hugely likable narrator in the oldest Dunbar brother, Matthew. The flashbacks illuminate just why their father left them and, through this, we understand how grief can consume a person’s spirit.
Liz Nugent, author of Skin Deep
My favourite book of 2018 was one that did not attract much attention in Ireland, but deserved a far wider readership. Never Anyone But You by Rupert Thompson is an exquisitely well-written book of historical fiction, an account of lesbian lovers who grew up in Paris before the Second World War. Their widowed parents conveniently married each other and so the women lived 'as sisters'. When the war threatens their safety, they move to Jersey and mount their own private resistance to the Third Reich. Their story is extraordinary and thrilling but the love between them is tender and touching to the end.
Arnold Thomas Fanning, author of Mind on Fire
I buy Crudo: A Novel in the Gutter Bookshop in Dalkey on the day Olivia Laing is giving a talk about it at the Book Festival there, and start to read it immediately at an outside table of an Italian restaurant, sipping a cool glass of white wine, gripped from the opening lines.
The book accompanies me on a trip to Spain and Morocco, read on planes and airports, at stopovers and connections: Dublin to Manchester to Barcelona to Fes. Its voice is singular: knowing, playful, angular, breathless, self-revealing, and it echoes in my mind long after:
'Kathy was angry. I mean I. I was angry. And then I got married.’
As I travelled, I followed this ‘I’, Kathy, on her travels in the summer of 2017, one year before my own, and by the time my journey was over I had finished reading, the book affecting and influencing me deeply.
Sinéad Moriarty, author of Our Secrets and Lies
My stand out book of 2018 was Educated by Tara Westover. It’s a jaw dropping and extraordinary memoir of Tara Westover’s childhood growing up as the youngest of seven children born to Mormon fundamentalist parents in Idaho. Somehow, Tara’s spirit is never broken despite the violent and volatile world she grows up in. Tara falls through a huge crack in society – her father never registered her birth and she was given no education. It is shocking to think that she didn’t set foot in a classroom until she was 17. Yet, through her sheer grit and determination, a decade later she ends up with a PhD from Cambridge University.
Conor O’Clery, author of The Shoemaker and His Daughter
Travellers in the Third Reich: The Rise of Fascism through the Eyes of Everyday People, by Julia Boyd.
I always wondered what 1930s Germany was like. Now I have a fair idea. This is a book about how pre-war Nazi Germany was experienced by tourists, students, business people, diplomats and the simply curious. It amounts to a study of the capacity for credulity and the banality of evil. Many saw a version of Utopia, with clean-living youth, autobahns and jolly beerhalls. Some, especially pro-Nazis, were enchanted. A very few were horrified by the success of indoctrination. Most were simply naïve. Some British tour groups enjoyed themselves hugely, right up to the outbreak of war.
Helen Cullen, author of The Lost Letters of William Woolf
Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2018, Milkman, by Anna Burns is undoubtedly my book of the year. I know some reviewers cited it as a difficult read, but I’m delighted that has not deterred readers from discovering this really arresting work. After you settle into the register of the narrator, it is a totally immersive experience to encounter the oftentimes chilling cruelty of the protagonist’s fractured existence and endure the gut-wrenching blows her narrative delivered. The story of ‘the girl who walks and reads’ is utterly compelling with stylish, confident, artistic execution that becomes an addictive read. A triumph!