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Ireland's suspicious novelists

Ireland's suspicious novelists

Ireland has the reputation of being, per capita, one of the most literary nations on Earth. The reality, according to Anne Enright, the 2007 Man Booker winner and a longlistee this year, is rather more equivocal. In a recent interview with the former Man Booker judge Alex Clark she noted that: ‘It takes Ireland a while to accept one of its writers, because there’s a very dissenting tradition in Irish writing. Writers are never telling wonderful stories about Ireland, they’re telling interesting stories about Ireland, and Ireland doesn’t necessarily appreciate that.’ That is the only reason she was slow to be embraced back home, her gender didn't help either: ‘the anxiety about the female voice comes very early; as in, it’s not actually sexualised anxiety. Irish men are more worried about their mothers than their girlfriends – and who wants to listen to their mother?’ In this instance, however, if Anne Enright is a literary mum, then mother does indeed know best.


If you have not yet had time to tackle the entire Man Booker longlist – and since the 13 titles amount to a pile 15¾" (or 40 cm) in height you'd need to be a ferociously quick reader to have got through them – the Bookseller has helpfully compiled some brief extracts from 11 of the books as a taster. Of course all the books are well worth reading (indeed the judges will by now well into their second readings as they prepare to cull seven of them to winnow out a shortlist) but the samples might help the committed aficionado to decide which order to read them in.


Jhumpa Lahiri, whose The Lowland was shortlisted for the 2013 prize, has received another stamp of approval. Her novel was one of six books chosen by Barack Obama for his holiday reading (in Martha's Vineyard since you ask). Lahiri's story of an Indian family emigrating to America sits alongside accounts of the American black experience, a study of climate change, a biography of George Washington, a novel about a blind French girl and a German boy in the Second World War, and the late, great James Salter's final novel, All That Is. Quite a pile for the presidential beach towel.


Sarah Waters, the serial Man Booker shortlistee (three and counting), has had four of her novels adapted for the screen – large and small. Now it is less than a month before one of them, Tipping the Velvet, takes to the stage. The playwright Laura Wade has adapted the book and this tale of Victorian music hall and Sapphism opens at the Lyric Hammersmith on 18th September. The timing is fortuitous: Waters is one of the judges of this year's £25,000 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books (for the non specialist reader) which is awarded on 24th September. So Waters needs two outfits – one for the première and one for the awards ceremony. Since scientists are known for their ‘challenging’ dress sense the second might prove more time consuming.


Another Man Booker adaptation, Julian Barnes's 2011 winner The Sense of an Ending, is, as readers of this column will know, due for a big screen outing. Shooting has just started in London and Bristol and a formidable roster of actresses has been announced as joining Jim Broadbent, who plays the lead character, Tony Webster. Charlotte Rampling, Harriet Walter, Emily Mortimer all have parts but the one who will set the dovecote a-fluttering is the pulchritudinous Michelle Dockery, or as she is now known, poor gal, ‘Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery’.