Famous Novelists of the 20th century
Ireland has produced some of the greatest writers in literature. Writing in all different, varying styles, these masters have produced works about Ireland, society, culture, family relationships, and personal events that have greatly influenced Ireland and the rest of the world. Below is a list of ten top Irish novelists, in alphabetical order.
1. John Banville
William John Banville, born in 1945, is best known for his dark humor and precise style, especially in the crime fiction novels that he writes under the pseudonym Benjamin Black. Many consider his clear, unique writing to embody a mastery of the English language. Banville was once a literary editor at the Irish Times and is currently a regular contributor to the "New York Review of Books." His most famous work, The Sea, is the journal of a retired art historian attempting to cope with the deaths of loved ones throughout his life. Aside from novels, Banville has also published various short stories and plays.
Notable Works: The Sea, The Book of Evidence
As Benjamin Black: Christine Falls, the Silver Swan, The Lemur, Elegy for April, A Death in Summer
2. Samuel Beckett
Samuel Barclay Beckett (1906-1989), along with James Joyce, is considered to be one of the most influential playwrights, poets, and novelists of the 20th century. Writing in both English and in French, his writing is known to express a bleak outlook on human life and culture while incorporating gallows humour and black comedy, meaning that he managed to bring out humor in situations that are hopeless and problematic. Due to his lifetime of achievements, he was elected Saoi of Aosdána, an Irish association of artists created by writers.
Notable Works: Molloy, Waiting for Godot (play)
3. Brendan Behan
Brendan Francis Behan was a Dublin-born poet, playwright, and novelist whose works were written in both Irish and English. In addition, Behan also volunteered for the IRA (Irish Republican Army), and his writing thereafter was greatly influenced by the subsequent crimes and prison sentences he was dealt. Upon reflecting about his experiences in the a Borstal (youth correctional) institution after being sent there for possessing explosives, he wrote his autobiography, entitled Borstal Boy. Later, he was sentenced to 14 more years in prison for the attempted murders of two detectives, which he wrote about in Confessions of an Irish Rebel. Behan struggled with alcoholism throughout his life, spending most of his time in pubs. He ultimately died after collapsing in a bar at age 41.
Notable Works: Borstal Boy, Brendan Behan’s Island, The Landlady (play), The Quare Fellow (play), Brendan Behan’s New York, Confessions of an Irish Rebel, The Scarperper
4. Anne Enright
Pulitzer-prize winner Anne Enright (born 1962) is famous for her novels, short stories, and essay collections about familial relationships, love, sex, and Ireland’s culture and the obstacles the country has overcome. Says Assistant Professor Claire Bracken, “Anne Enright is one of the most important Irish writers of the contemporary period, whose work is notable for its literary experimentation, wry humor, and piercing intellectual insight." Her first novel, The Wig My Father Wore, is about a girl who works for a game show in Dublin, the angel she falls in love with, and her father who wears a wig that cannot be spoken about in his presence. The Gathering, perhaps her most famous novel, is about a woman name Veronica, who upon her alcoholic brother Liam’s suicide, attempts to look through her family’s troubled history in order to make sense of his death.
Notable Works: The Gathering, The Wig My Father Wore, Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood
5. James Joyce
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce, born in 1882 and died in 1941, is considered to be one of the most influential writes of the early 20th century. He is best know for Ulysses, and is, according to Bracken, an “incredible literary work that manages to incorporate a myriad of styles in such a way that creates (in my opinion) the most original piece of writing ever produced.” The novel took him seven years to write, and is noted for its steam of consciousness technique, amongst countless others. Joyce also authored Dubliners, a collection of 15 short stories that depicted middle class Irish life in the early 1900’s. Bloomsday is the day celebrated annually on June 16th dedicated to Joyce; it is the very day in which the events of Ulysses take place, and many also believe that it is also the day that Joyce had his first date with his future wife, Nora Barnacle.
Notable works: Ulysses, A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, Finnegan’s Wake, Dubliners
6. John McGahern
Throughout his career, John McGahern wrote only six novels, and they're said to document his own life as proven in his autobiography entitled All Will Be Well: a Memoir. McGahern was at first a primary schoolteacher, but was fired due to the controversy over his novel The Dark. The book was banned in Ireland due to the implication of incest and overall pornographic content. His first novel, The Barracks, took place in the same place where McGahern grew up and The Dark is said to document the author's relationship with his own father. His best known novel, Amongst Women, tells the story of an IRA veteran and the influence that his changed, now hardened personality has on his family, as is said to be a good example of the changes in personality of any veteran. McGahern also was a writer of short stories, in addition to finishing his career as a processor at various universities across the world.