In the second of two special blogs, Damian Smyth, Head of Literature and Drama at the Arts Council, selects the best new books to escape into when the real world gets too much.
The Tide (Little Tiger £6.99) is written by Clare Helen Walsh with artwork by Ashling Lindsay – before any other diagnosis of what it’s about, it’s a lovely economical story of understanding between generations, as metaphors are found for when familiar relationships get confused and blurry as age takes its place, and it’s also shortlisted for the KPMG CBI Book Awards. One of the Arts Council’s literature ACES, Lindsay’s art is mellow, subtle and full of discoveries to be made.
A writer developing real authority is Rosemary Jenkinson, playwright, memoirist and short fiction specialist, whose Catholic Boy (2018) was shortlisted for the EU Ireland Prize for Literature. Her fourth collection and second from Galway’s excellent bijou Doire Press is Lifestyle Choice 10MG (£11.00): twelve witty, observant and punchily-written stories of classic Jenkinsoniana – the lonely, the drugged, the frantic, the adventurous, the paranoid, the hunted, the hilarious, the desperate, moving through the vexed streets of Ulster, who end up oddly in a condition close to heroism.
You may remember Enoch Powell, but I bet you won’t remember the man he succeeded as MP for South Down in 1974. In The Shepherd and the Morning Star (Birlinn £9.99), Willie Orr – that man’s son – has written at once a gripping memoir of his father, Unionist Party grandee Lawrence Percy Story Orr, and an equally compelling autobiography relating his separation from and disavowal of the politics and personality of his womanising, near-bigamist father, and his own long journey from Belfast to Oban where he finally settled, after spells as a shipyard worker, an actor, a shepherd and a teacher. It’s a unique, rather eccentric tale, peppered with the author’s own good verses, some political and social observations of our day, and touching tributes to dogs that were good on the hill. In other words, very nearly perfect.