The Irish Book of the Decade had a short list of 50 chosen by reviewers, libraries and booksellers. I've just picked a few out...
That they May Face the Rising Sun - John McGahern (Faber, 2002) I am sitting only feet away from my own treasured copy, each sentence a gentle joy. Read it. Read it.
Keane - Roy Keane and Eamon Dunphy (Penguin, 2002) The book of the decade??? Not of five minutes. I admit I'm biased: I still haven't forgiven Keane for having a row with the Irish team coach during the 2002 world cup and being sent home. And Dunphy is just so mean to people...
The Story of Lucy Gault - William Trevor (Penguin, 2002)
A master storyteller. Every book is a lesson in how to write..
Star of the Sea - Joseph O'Connor (Vintage, 2002)
I know people loved this story of a ship sailing to America during the famine but I didn't. In fact, for my Masters I wrote an essay criticising its heavy handed use of historical research which won me my highest mark. Although it was accurate in every detail, I didn't believe Star of the Sea - people who have been through a trauma like the famine don't find it easy to revisit it in their thoughts or in conversation. All the facts were right and it still felt wrong.
In the Forest - Edna O'Brien (Phoenix, 2002)
A novelist who uses language like a poet and she seems to get better with age. My personal favourite is Down by the River. It contains a half page of description about a father abusing his daughter that is so painful I couldn't read it in one sitting. But it's written in simple, everyday language and is neither graphic nor prurient. It is simply so well crafted that it achieves what every writer is aiming for - that sense of being there.
PS I Love You - Cecelia Ahern (HarperCollins, 2004) I've used it in classes because I think it shows that there is nothing more important than the story. It lacks feeling and depth. It is not well written and is a pretty immature take on grief and death (well, she was only 22 when she wrote it), but she had an idea and ran with it and the publishers and film companies and the readers followed...
Memoir - John McGahern (Faber, 2005) ditto what I wrote above. Double ditto.
The Sea - John Banville (Picador, 2005) Winner of the Booker On my must read list (and I have no excuse because I actually have a copy somewhere)
Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne (David Fickling, 2006) If you can buy into the idea that he could be there and not know...then this is a heartbreak. A fairytale kind of heartbreak and I'm thinking of the Brothers Grimm and not Walt Disney...
Lots of other famous names among the rest of the 50 --
Sheila O'Flanagan, Anne Enright (another Booker winner), Jennifer Johnston, Alice Taylor, Sebastian Barry, Deirdre Madden, Maeve Binchy, Marian Keyes, Patricia Scanlan and Colm Toibin.
The winner was announced today and it is (...extended drum roll...)
DEREK LANDY(never heard of him) for Skulduggery Pleasant (not even in the same continent as my must read list).
He is a comic fantasy author writing for children (which is 25% of the publishing market in Ireland apparently and probably similar elsewhere) and even the people who had heard of him and knew that his books are an international success didn't expect him to win.
"Astonishingly enough, I am not taking this opportunity to gloat, because apparently that isn't very classy," Landy said with a big grin on his face.
More power to him...and the thousands of young readers who voted for him...and the thousands more who are reading because of him...