1. "Exciting Times" - Naoise Dolan
Dolan dazzles readers with this debut novel. Ava is a millennial Irish ex-pat who moves to Hong Kong to find happiness. She first meets a British banker named Julian, whom she befriends. The two eventually engage in a romantic relationship before his work takes him back to London. Act two: enter Edith, an alluring, Hong Kong-born lawyer. Ava finds herself wanting her and wanting to be her while her relationship with Julian remains in the air. However, things get massively complicated when Julian announces he is returning back to Hong Kong. So where will Ava’s happiness lie? With Julian? Or with Edith?
2. "Midwinter Break" - Bernard MacLaverty
Stella and Gerry Gilmore are a retired couple from Scotland who decide to get away for a weekend to Amsterdam. Although their life together seems fairly easy-going and satisfying, the weekend reveals some previously unknown anxieties between them. Stella is strong in her faith, which Gerry remains critical of, and Gerry is sometimes absentminded and stubborn. The trip, initially a little getaway, becomes an effort to save what’s left of their marriage. The novel is a striking examination of how humans love and compromise themselves in relationships.
3. "The Lesser Bohemians" - Eimear McBride
A young 18-year-old Irish woman moves to London to begin a new phase of life as a drama student. She hopes for fame but struggles to find her place in the city as she is still a bit naive. Eventually, after making some friendships, the young woman finds a place for herself and meets an older, attractive man 20 years her senior. Her new relationship with this older man changes her life’s trajectory forever and reminds readers of what it’s like to become intensely infatuated with another person for the first time.
4. "The Sea" - John Banville
Max Morden is a middle-aged Irish man who moves to a beach town where he spent his summers as a child to cope with his wife’s recent passing. Returning to this town also means coming back to where he first met the Graces, a wealthy family that introduced to him his first understanding of love and loss. Throughout the novel, Max reexamines his past and its permanent impact on his life. “The Sea” is beautiful and devastating in its interpretation of the mark that death leaves on people.
5. "The Marriage Portrait" - Maggie O'Farrell
O’Farrell brings a slice of the glamorous Renaissance Italy for readers to digest through this fictionalized story-telling of Lucrezia de Medici. Lucrezia, just barely leaving girlhood, is thrust into a marriage to the duke who was supposed to originally marry her late sister. Lucrezia must navigate her place in an unfamiliar court and uphold her end of the marriage bargain: produce an heir. In a time where a woman’s survival is based upon her ability to strategically prove herself invaluable, this novel is a riveting depiction of that battle.
6. "Conversations With Friends" - Sally Rooney
Frances is an introverted, observant university student aspiring to be a writer. Bobbi, her best friend and ex-girlfriend is outgoing, eccentric, and, at times, self-involved. The two young women meet an established journalist named Melissa, who pulls them into her circle. While Bobbi remains enthralled by Melissa and keen on building a relationship with her, Frances reluctantly falls for Melissa’s husband, Nick. Between her secret affair with Nick, complicated relationships with her parents, and her friendship with Bobbi, Frances attempts to keep the areas of her life under control and separate. This novel intimately looks at vulnerability and selfishness from a different lens.
7. "Trespasses" - Louise Kennedy
This novel is set in Northern Ireland during the troubles. Cushla lives in a quaint town with her mother near Belfast. During the day, she teaches at a parochial school, while at night, she helps at her family’s pub. While working at the pub, she meets Michael Agnew, who has a reputation for defending IRA members. Although she knows better, Cushla feels drawn to Michael (older and a protestant) and finds herself pulled into an affair with him. This book grapples with the problem of loyalty to one’s community and a passion that goes against everything one’s community stands for.
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