Literature Research Guide: Irish Novels & the Booker Award

This guide, with contributions from Mary Wilber, highlights resources available from the McClelland Library to anyone researching or interested in reading Irish Novels that are winners and finalists of the Booker Award. This literary prize is awarded each year for the best original full-length novel written in English by a citizen of any current or former Commonwealth country. The McClelland Library owns many titles from various writers that have this distinguished recognition, and can be found by searching our catalog. All of these books and many more can be found in our fiction section under the author’s last name. The library also has a handout that lists all of these winners and finalists.

books on shelf

John Banville

The Sea (Winner 2005)

A novel about love, loss, and the unpredictable power of memory. What Max Morden, the narrator, comes to understand about the past, and its effects on him, is at the center of this dramatic and beautifully written novel.

The Book of Evidence (Finalist-1989)

Freddie Montgomery returns to his native Ireland to reclaim a seventeenth-century Dutch painting which he believes to be part of his patrimony, committing a murder along the way.

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Sebastian Barry

A Long Long Way (Finalist-2005)

In 1914, at the age of eighteen, Willie Dunn left his family behind and Dublin to enlist in the Allied forces and face the Germans on the Western Front. Sebastian Barry vividly renders Willie’s personal struggle as well as the overwhelming consequences of war.

The Secret Scripture (Finalist-2008)

Recording the events of her life from a mental hospital as her hundredth birthday approaches, Roseanne McNulty considers returning to society when she learns that the hospital is about to close.

An Interview with Sebastian Barry

Anna Burns

Milkman (Winner-2018)

It is dangerous to be interesting in this unnamed city. Middle sister, the protagonist, is attempting to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with Milkman. When first brother-in-law sniffs out her struggle, and rumors start to swell, middle sister becomes “interesting.” To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous.

Anna Burns wins Booker Prize

Seamus Deane

Reading in the Dark (Finalist-1996)

A young boy describes growing up amid the violence and tragedy of Northern Ireland during the 1940s and 1950s, detailing the deadly, unspoken betrayal born out of political enmity that shapes the lives of himself and his family.

Irish Identity in Seamus Deane’s “Reading in the Dark”

Emma Donoghue

Room (Finalist-2010)

Jack and his mother, who was kidnapped seven years earlier when she was a 19-year old, celebrate his fifth birthday. They live in a tiny 11-foot-square soundproofed cell in a converted shed in the kidnapper’s yard. The sociopath visits at night doling out food and supplies. But Ma proves to be resilient and resourceful—and attempts a nail-biting escape. 


 How Emma Donoghue’s ROOM became a book and a now a play

Roddy Doyle

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (Winner-1993) 

This novel describes the world of ten-year-old Paddy Clarke, growing up in Barrytown, North Dublin. From fun and adventure on the streets, boredom in the classroom to increasing isolation at home, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha is the story of a boy who sees everything but understands less and less.

The Van (Finalist-1991)

Jimmy Rabbitte and his friend Bimbo run a mobile food van around Dublin, selling grub to the drunk and hungry and are one step ahead of the health officers.


Anne Enright

The Gathering (Winner-2007)

The nine surviving children of the Hegarty clan are gathering in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother, Liam. His sister, Veronica, guards the secret she shares with him-something that happened in their grandmother’s house in 1968. It is a novel about love and disappointment, about how memories warp and secrets fester, and how fate is written in the body, not in the stars.

Booker Prize winner Anne Enright: “The Irish are dark but friendly…”

Jennifer Johnston

Shadows on Our Skin (Finalist-1977)

Joe Logan is a teenager having to cope with embittered parents, harsh teachers and constant awareness of military presence during the 1970s and the Troubles in Derry. Central to the story is the friendship between Joe and Kathleen, who brings a fresh perspective to his familiar world.

Molly Keane

Good Behaviour (Finalist-1981)

Behind the gates of Temple Alice, the aristocratic Anglo-Irish St Charles family sinks into a state of decaying grace. To Aroon St Charles, large and unlovely daughter of the house, the fierce forces of sex, money, jealousy and love seem locked out by the ritual patterns of good behaviour. But crumbling codes of conduct cannot hope to save the family from their own unruly and inadmissible desires. 

Bernard MacLaverty

Grace Notes (Finalist-1997)

Grace Notes is a compact and altogether masterful portrait of a woman composer and the complex interplay between her life and her art. 


Patrick McCabe

Butcher Boy (Finalist-1992)

This is the story of Francie Brady, whose troubled home life leaves him violent and detached. Things begin to fall apart after his mother’s suicide. After he’s committed to an asylum, he finds peace. McCabe’s theatrical adaptation of the novel was staged in Dublin with tremendous success.

Breakfast on Pluto (Finalist-1998)

A drag queen’s adventures as a member of the Irish Republican Army. Tired of the violence around him he flees to London, only to be recruited by the IRA as a bomber.

The Butcher Boy (1997) Movie Trailer

John McGahern

Amongst Women (Finalist-1990)

Michael Moran is an old Irish Republican whose life was forever transformed by his days of  glory as a guerrilla leader in the Irish War of Independence. Moran is still fighting-with his family, his friends, and even himself-in this haunting testimony to the enduring qualities of the human spirit.

A Conversation with John McGahern

Iris Murdoch

The Sea the Sea (Winner-1978)

Charles Arrowby retires from London to an isolated home by the sea. He plans to write a memoir about his great love affair with Clement Makin, his mentor, and amuse himself with Lizzie, an actress he’s strung along for years. None of his plans work out, and his memoir evolves into a riveting chronicle of the strange events and unexpected visitors that disrupt his world.

Julia O’Faolain

No Country for Young Men (Finalist-1980)

When Sister Judith Clancy leaves her convent and returns to her family, community ties begin to unravel. Generations of the O’Malleys and Clancys attempt to come to terms with the after-effects of the Irish Civil War. 

Colm Toibin

The Blackwater Lightship (Finalist-1999)

After years of strife, three women, Dora Devereux, her daughter Lily and her grand-daughter Helen have arrived in Ireland to come together because Helen’s brother is dying. All of them, including two friends, are from different generations and have different beliefs are forced to listen to each other and come to terms with each other.

The Master (Finalist-2004)

In 1895, after Henry James’ first play in London failed, he wrote a string of masterpieces that were produced at a high personal cost. Henry James is admired for his work from the public, but his attempts at intimacy failed him and those he tried to love.

The Testament of Mary (Finalist-2013)

A provocative imaging of the later years of the mother of Jesus finds her living a solitary existence in Ephesus years after her son’s crucifixion and struggling with guilt, anger, and feelings that her son is not the son of God and that His sacrifice was not for a worthy cause.

Colm Tóibín on Writing

William Trevor

Mrs. Eckdorf in O’Neill’s Hotel (Finalist-1970)

Mrs. Eckdorf is a photographer who is determined to uncover an imagined tragedy at the old hotel. However, the reader is introduced to many unique characters who frequent the hotel, as they reveal their hopes, dreams and disappointments to the elderly owner.

The Children of Dynmouth (Finalist-1976)

A small seaside town is harshly exposed by a young boy’s curiosity. His prurient interest, oddly motivated, leaves few people unaffected and the consequences cannot be ignored. 

Reading Turgenev (Finalist-1991)

A lonely country girl escapes her loveless marriage and is rescued by a bookish young man. 

The Story of Lucy Gault (Finalist-2002)

A novel set in Ireland in the 1920s charts the progress of a young girl whose entire life seems to be falling apart when the threat of arson drives the family from their country home.

William Trevor Interview