Into the West – six great books to read this winter – all with a local flavour

In these cool winter nights, what’s better company than a good book? And, even better, how about a reading set here in West Cork? Bantry Library’s Aaron Hennessy picks his personal favorites

West Cork’s sea-washed coast and the lush but rugged countryside we all love have often given writers pause. Many have set their stories here. Others took it a step further and put down sticks. What better time to relax with a good book set in your surroundings on a freezing winter evening. Here are a few that will make the story even more exciting for its setting.

A ghost in the throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa has been one of the most critically acclaimed and popular books set and inspired in West Cork in recent years. The novel chronicles the narrator’s journey through motherhood. It finds support in researching him and ultimately in his translation of the 18th-century Irish epic, Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire (The Keen for Art O’Laoghaire) by Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill. Calling this work a ‘novel’ seems reductive.

It combines aspects of autofiction, factual historical accounts of Macroom and Cork in the 1700s, imagined historical passages, translation and poetry in prose that transcends form.

This book is something vital and new.

Another historical novel, set in the 19th century, that of Marianne Lee A quiet tide traces the short but productive life of Ellen Hutchins, who carried out extensive botanical research in the Bantry area in the 19th century. She was Ireland’s first female botanist. The book is so deeply researched and felt by Lee that the reader quickly slips into the historical Irish setting and the daily lives of the residents of Ballylickey.

by Martina Devlin Edith, another historical novel set in West Cork, delves into the life of Edith Somerville. An upper-class Irish writer, Somerville’s ancestral home was Drishane’s House, Castletownshend. In Devlin’s hands she is a witty and eccentric character floating around London socialising, dabbling in the occult and writing; but she is always drawn home.

1920s Ireland is not as welcoming to an Anglo-Irish aristocrat as it was in previous decades, yet there is a strong sense of nostalgia for the modern reader as Edith enters Skibbereen railway station and struggles to keep her home and its identity.

No account of West Cork literature would be complete without including Bandon native Graham Norton.

His novel Socket which has been adapted for the big screen is currently airing on Virgin Media, so anyone who missed it the first time around should be sure to brush up on the mysteries and intrigue that haunt the seemingly sleepy village of Duneen. He always makes West Cork a character in its own right, such is his love for his native region.

Speaking of mystery, Catherine Ryan Howard’s latest, Execution time is a meta thriller set, once again, in the West Cork countryside. We follow a down on her luck actress who accepts a role in a horror film set in West Cork.

Reality quickly begins to imitate art as events from the script are copied into real life. This is a classic thriller, shot through with dark humor.

Our final recommendation is Fall in love with a dancer by Deirdre Purcell, set on the Beara Peninsula.

The idealistic love is undone by scandal when Elizabeth, the protagonist, becomes pregnant out of wedlock. Purcell’s beautiful and moving story tragically takes the reader through the dire reality of women’s rights in 1930s Ireland. This novel, sadly, is always prescient.

As you can see, there is no shortage of novels set in our historic, romantic and exciting part of the country. It’s always fun to see your world reflected in fiction, to feel represented – why not let some of these local and powerful stories keep you company by the fire?

There’s no time like the present to stock up. And, if possible, support your local bookstore or library!

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