Ireland may not be our nearest European neighbour geographically, but Irish writers have long influenced our literature. Beth Miller explains why two Irish writers in particular make her storytelling senses buzz.
I love Irish writing. I don’t have any connection to Ireland (though I did have a happy time there years ago, hitch-hiking around Galway and Lisdoonvarna). Nonetheless, something deep inside me responds to the humour, the sharp observations, the fizz and snap of the language. Not all Irish writing, of course. For instance, I admire James Joyce’s work more than I like it (and considerably more than I actually read it). But for sheer all-out great story-telling, it’s hard to top my two favourite Irish writers, Roddy Doyle and Marian Keyes. I know they’re not exactly unheard of. This isn’t revealing to the world two unsung scribes who live in garrets and barely scrape a farthing. However, both suffer, I think, from a teensy bit of literary snobbery; I reckon there are potential readers out there who would love their books but think perhaps that something so popular must be, as Doyle or Keyes would put it, shite.
Their books are, in fact, deadly (meaning fantastic in Keyes-Doyle land). They both write about relationships as well as any of your more literary types, and are funny and insightful about all manner of other stuff, too. Marian Keyes, a reformed alcoholic who has regular depressive episodes, is only too willing to explore the darker side of life. Roddy Doyle is also no fluff-merchant: his books have tackled domestic violence, teenage pregnancy and serious illness. But neither writer is anything approaching gloomy or hard-going; they prefer a wisecrack to a wallow when things are really dark.
My favourite Keyes book is The Other Side of the Story. Told from three different viewpoints, it inspired me to write my own first novel, also told through three different viewpoints (sorry for nicking that, Marian, though actually one of my viewpoints got cut before publication). I also love her two short collections of non-fiction essays, which have the terrible titles (and covers to match) of Under the Duvet and Further Under the Duvet. She is adorable on twitter, too.
And I heartily recommend the two less well-known of Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy: The Snapper and The Van. Everyone knows the first, The Commitments, because it was made into a terrific film. But I think the other two are better books. The Snapper is about a teenager who accidentally gets pregnant, but from this unoriginal theme comes something transcendently wonderful. (It was made into an unsung little film, which I love almost as much as the book.) And The Van is a touching, honest and funny meditation on male friendship in middle-age.
Both writers have in common a cracking sense of humour, a beautiful turn of phrase, and a very faint whiff of Irish whimsy, which they mercifully keep well under control. Begorrah, so they do.