Colin Barrett was born in Canada but, at the age of four, moved with his family to Mayo. His writing career was ignited in 2009 with the publication of Let’s Go Kill Ourselves in The Stinging Fly magazine. Four years on saw the release of Young Skins, his debut short-story collection. That was followed by an additional eight short stories with Homesickness in 2022.

Wild Houses, by Colin Barrett, is published by Jonathan Cape £16.99

Barrett was awarded many accolades for the brilliant Young Skins, being widely heralded as one of Ireland’s finest writers based on this first publication. He pocketed both the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature in 2014.

Two of his short stories were made into plays for the New Theatre, Dublin in 2017, while Calm With Horses, which was written in novella form, debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival two years later. The now acclaimed Barry Keoghan was one of the two lead roles in the movie.

Debut novel

The skills employed in writing short stories do not automatically transfer into the longer novel form, and literary history is littered with more failures than successes. In the case of Colin Barrett’s debut novel, Wild Houses, we most certainly have a winner.

Barrett centred many of his short stories in a fictional small town in Mayo called Glanbeigh, but for Wild Houses his setting is in the real-life Ballina. The story is told from two perspectives, those of the loner Dev, and of Nicky. The home of the vulnerable Dev is used by his cousins to hide Doll English. Doll is the brother of a local drug dealer and is kidnapped by Dev’s cousins. Nicky is the teenage girlfriend of Doll.

Many themes in the writings by Barrett are rooted in his own experiences, and these help readers to fully immerse themselves as the story unfolds. His depictions of criminals are sublime, and the best example comes when he describes the drug dealer, Mulrooney. Barrett writes that he speaks in the “frictionless register of a priest or minor politician working the room at a parish fundraiser”. It paints a picture in your mind that embeds itself.

Tough Dev and Nicky are two sides of a coin, they also share much in common. Both orphaned, they are susceptible to bullies and fall prey to them. Barrett also reveals some of his own past in the character of Nicky, notably the desire to escape from the confines of a town in Ireland and experience the wider world.

Words, their importance and the need to be succinct when it comes to writing short stories, are also evident in Wild Houses. Nonetheless, the

dialogue flows and is engaging, and, with apologies for the obvious cliché, it is a page-turner.

Published by Jonathan Cape, €14.99

Wild Houses by Colin Barrett

A Room with a View by EM Forster

A Room with a View, by E.M. Forster is published by Penguin £9.99

This book depicts Lucy’s struggles as she emerges as her own woman. She struggles between strict, old-fashioned Victorian values and newer, more liberal mores.

Her trip to Italy opens her eyes to ideas and people unlike those she has known growing up in the English countryside. She notices how freely Italian classes seem to mix and realises that the social boundaries she has always regarded as inflexible are not. Her experience with the Emersons shows her that there can be beauty in things that are considered improper.

Lucy’s real test lies at home, where she must confront familiar surroundings. The Emersons deliver her from the grips of society, allowing her to see beyond the propriety that forbids her marriage to the lower-class George and, therefore, to follow her heart.

Published in 1908, A Room with a View is one of Forster’s early works. Its strength lies in a vivid cast of characters, humorous dialogue, and a comedic play upon the manners of the day.

Published by Penguin, €11.59

Whatever Happened to Birdy Troy?

by Rachael English

Whatever Happened to Birdy Troy? by Rachael English, is published by Hachette Books €15.99

Many will know Rachael English as a presenter on RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland, but she manages to devote time to another of her loves, that of being a successful author. In the dozen or so years since her debut she has penned seven novels, the latest being Whatever Happened to Birdy Troy?

This new volume tells the story of The Diamonds, an all-female rock band who in the early 1980s were tipped for stardom. A one-hit wonder, they disappeared just as quickly as their star ascended, and the book concerns the search by podcaster Stacy Nash to find out what happened to the band. As problems arise for Nash in her own life, she delves deeply into the disappearance of the band’s guitarist and songwriter, Birdy Troy.

English says she loves to write about characters who live through fascinating times but never make the history books, and here she brings some of them to life in her captivating style. It is set to be one of this year’s bestsellers.

Published by Hachette Books, €15.99

Breakdown by Cathy Sweeney

Breakdown, by Cathy Sweeney, is published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson £13.99

Another debut novel by an Irish author, Breakdown tells the story of many types of breakdowns: trust, friendship, marriage and, the mind.

It is the story, told in the first person, of a 52-year-old Dublin teacher, apparently a happy middle-class woman, who awakes one winter’s morning to the snoring of her husband, Tom. A routine day is about to change while she is on her way to work. Without warning, she decides to abandon Tom and her two teenage children, and heads into the unknown.

She travels by car, train and ferry and finds herself in service stations, shopping centres, hotel bars and the beds of strange men. Finally, two days later and alone on an isolated cottage in Wales, she faces up to the truth. In a story of reawakening and self-compassion, we are taken through the expectations placed on women by marriage and motherhood, and the sacrifices made to meet them.

The narrator finally emerges solid and strong, perhaps as the person she was always meant to be.

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