Welcome to our new books page; I hope you will enjoy the journey we are about to embark upon. Not all books reviewed here will be to everyone’s taste, but occasionally you may wish to try something new, a different genre even, and I am hoping to provide you with a selection to choose from.

In recent months, there has beensome very good releases and I am highlighting a few I enjoyed.

In 2023, my book of the year was John Boyne’s Water, and this is the first of a quartet of interlinked novels he is set to publish in six-monthly intervals. The others will be Earth (due for release in May), Fire and Air.

Boyne is probably best-known for The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, has gained enormous critical acclaim in more recent times for The Heart’s Invisible Furies, though my personal favourite of all his novels remains The Absolutist. He has certainly been prolific, producing six works for younger readers, two novellas, a book of short stories, and an incredible 14 other novels before Water.

Running to just 166 pages, Water opens with a single line that immediately grabs the reader’s attention. “The first thing I do when I arrive on the island is change my name.” Immediately, there are so many questions. Who is this woman? Why has she swapped a life of middle-class luxury in Dublin to live in a small cottage on a remote island? What is she running from?

This is a story told in the first person, by the middle-aged Vanessa Carlin who has changed her name to Willow Hale. She is trying to escape a past that is mired in scandal, and learning how to live with the aftermath of shame. In this slim volume, we are also introduced to a variety of characters, any one of whom would possibly be deserving of a book in their own right.

Many questions are raised in Boyne’s exploration of a dark side to our society, not least the one about how complicit Vanessa was in her husband’s crimes. By not doing anything, was she in fact doing something wrong? The revelations in this book are highly relevant for today’s world, may touch the lives of some readers more than others, but the careful way in which Boyne tells the story is admirable.

For me, a feature of all of Boyne’s works is the clarity with which he writes, always making his novels easily accessible for the reader. He is not afraid to tackle subjects that are uneasy for people, but in doing so he reveals the human impact of our actions. Water is another fine example of a classic by a master craftsman.

The only pity now is that we have to wait for the next volume.

Water by John Boyne

Water by John Boyne. Publisher: Doubleday, €13.99

Leo's recommended reads

Thought provoking

Close To Home by Michael Magee

Close to Home by Michael Magee

Winner of the prestigious Rooney Prize for Literature last year, Michael Magee’s Close To Home is the story of Sean from West Belfast. He works hard, studies, and mostly stays out of trouble. The conflict is over and his future is filled with promise.

Returning home from university, he finds nothing has changed. One night, he assaults a stranger at a party and everything begins to come undone. The book begins with this act of violence before expanding into a portrait of working-class Ireland under the shadow of the Troubles.

It’s a first novel by Michael Magee, drawn from his own life experiences, and focuses on what happens when men get desperate. It also shines a light on the cycles of loss, trauma, and secrecy that keep them trapped, and about the struggle to shed these shackles.

Close To Home, by Michael Magee. Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, €21(hardback)


Sunday Miscellany by Sarah Binchy

Sunday Miscellany A Selection 2018–2023, edited by Sarah Binchy

Fancy something to read before bedtime, or to have in the car while you wait at training or school for your passengers? There is just one book to have.

Sunday Miscellany: A Selection 2018-2023 is edited by Sarah Binchy and is a companion book to the RTÉ Radio 1 institution. With some 150 pieces, it is a kaleidoscope of riches, featuring contributions from established writers and listeners. Colm Tóibín, Louise Kennedy, Susan McKay and Joseph O’Connor are just a few with selections in this must-have volume.

Sunday Miscellany: A Selection 2018-2023 by Sarah Binchy. Publisher: New Island Books, €19.95


Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Many classics from our youth are rarely, if ever, revisited. Often this can be attributed to poor teaching in school, the place where most people were introduced to novels, poetry and prose.

This month I am going to recommend Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck as a classic to be taken down and read. This is a tale of friendship and tragedy during the Great Depression, and the main characters are an unlikely pair. George is ‘small and quick and dark of face’, while the giant Lennie has the mind of a young child. Yet they bond in the face of loneliness and alienation. They hustle work when they can, live a hand-to-mouth existence, but their dream and plan is to own an acre of land and a shack. Landing jobs on a ranch in Salinas Valley, the fulfilment of their dream seems close, but George cannot guard Lennie from the provocations of a flirtatious woman, nor can he foresee the consequences of Lennie’s unswerving obedience to the things George has taught him.

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck. Publisher: Penguin Classic, €11.85

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