Irish Book Awards: Novel of the Year

Irish Book Awards logo

Irish Book Awards: Novel of the Year

Irish Book Awards logo

The Irish Book Awards are Irish literary awards given annually to books and authors in various categories. It is the only literary award supported by all-Irish bookstores. First awarded in 2006, they grew out of the Hughes & Hughes bookstore’s Irish Novel of the Year Prize which was inaugurated in 2000. There are currently nine categories, seven of which are judged by the Irish Literary Academy, two by a public vote.Below are the winners of the Best Novel category, 2003-present. Enjoy!

2016
Solar Bones – Mike McCormack

Once a year, on All Souls Day, it is said that the dead may return; Solar Bones tells the story of one such visit. Set in the west of Ireland as the recession is about to strike, this novel is a portrait of one man’s experience when his world threatens to fall apart. Wry and poignant, Solar Bones is an intimate portrayal of one family, capturing how careless decisions ripple out into waves, and how our morals are challenged in small ways every day.

2015
The Green Road – Anne Enright

Hanna, Dan, Constance and Emmet return to the west coast of Ireland for a final family Christmas in the home their mother is about to sell. As the feast turns to near painful comedy, a last, desperate act from Rosaleen – a woman who doesn’t quite know how to love her children – forces them to confront the weight of family ties and the road that brought them home.

2014
Academy Street – Mary Costello

She stood on the edge of the grass. She hovered between worlds, deciphering the ground, tracing in mid-air the hall, the dining-room, the stairs. She was despairingly close to home now, to the rooms and the voices that contained the first names for home. Memories abounded and her heart pounded and history broke in… Growing up in the west of Ireland in the 1940s, Tess is a shy introverted child. But beneath her quiet exterior lies a heart of fire. A fire that will later drive her to make her home among the hurly burly of 1960s New York. Over four decades and a life lived with quiet intensity on Academy Street in upper Manhattan, Tess encounters ferocious love and calamitous loss. But what endures is her bravery and fortitude, and her striking insights even as she is ‘floating close to hazard.’ Joyous and heart-breaking, restrained but sweeping, this is a profoundly moving story that charts one woman’s quest for belonging amid the dazzle and tumult of America’s greatest city. Academy Street establishes Mary Costello as one of Ireland’s most exciting literary voices.

2013
The Guts – Roddy Doyle

Jimmy Rabbitte is back. The man who invented the Commitments back in the eighties is now forty-seven, with a loving wife, four kids… and bowel cancer. He isn’t dying, he thinks, but he might be. Jimmy still loves his music, and he still loves to hustle – his new thing is finding old bands and then finding the people who loved them enough to pay money for their resurrected singles and albums. On his path through Dublin he meets two of the Commitments – Outspan, whose own illness is probably terminal, and Imelda Quirk, still as gorgeous as ever. He is reunited with his long-lost brother and learns to play the trumpet. This warm, funny novel is about friendship and family, about facing death and opting for life. It climaxes in one of the great passages in Roddy Doyle’s fiction: four middle-aged men at Ireland’s hottest rock festival watching Jimmy’s son Marvin’s band Moanin’ At Midnight pretending to be Bulgarian and playing a song called ‘I’m Going to Hell’ that apparently hasn’t been heard since 1932. Why? You’ll have to read The Guts to find out.

2012
Ancient Light – John Banville

In a small town in 1950s Ireland a fifteen-year-old boy has illicit meetings with a thirty-five-year-old woman – in the back of her car on sunny mornings, and in a rundown cottage in the country on rain-soaked afternoons. Unsure why she has chosen him, he becomes obsessed and tormented by this first love. Half a century later, actor Alexander Cleave – grieving for the recent loss of his daughter – recalls these trysts, trying to make sense of the boy he was and of the needs and frailties of the human heart.

2011
Mistaken – Neil Jordan

‘I had been mistaken for him so many times that when he died it was as if part of myself had died too.’ Kevin Thunder grew up with a double – a boy so uncannily like him that they were mistaken for each other at every turn. As children in 1960s Dublin, one lived next to Bram Stoker’s house, haunted by an imagined Dracula, the other in the more refined spaces of Palmerston Park. Though divided, like the city itself, by background and class, they shared the same smell, the same looks and perhaps, Kevin comes to believe, the same soul. They exchange identities when it suits them, each acting the part of the other one, but as they reach adulthood, what started as a childhood game descends into something more sinister and they discover taking on another’s life can lead to darker places than either had imagined. Neil Jordan’s long-awaited new novel is an extraordinary achievement – a comedy of manners at the same time as a Gothic tragedy, a thriller and an elegy. It offers imaginative entertainment of the highest order.

2010
Room – Emma Donoghue

To five-year-old-Jack, Room is the world… It’s where he was born, it’s where he and his Ma eat and sleep and play and learn. At night, his Ma shuts him safely in the wardrobe, where he is meant to be asleep when Old Nick visits. Room is home to Jack, but to Ma it’s the prison where she has been held for seven years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in this eleven-by-eleven-foot space. But with Jack’s curiosity building alongside her own desperation, she knows that Room cannot contain either much longer. “Room” is a tale at once shocking, riveting, exhilarating – a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child.

2009
The Secret Scripture – Sebastian Barry

Nearing her one-hundredth birthday, Roseanne McNulty faces an uncertain future, as the Roscommon Regional Mental hospital where she’s spent the best part of her adult life prepares for closure. Over the weeks leading up to this upheaval, she talks often with her psychiatrist Dr. Grene, and their relationship intensifies and complicates. Told through their respective journals, the story that emerges is at once shocking and deeply beautiful. Refracted through the haze of memory and retelling, Roseanne’s story becomes an alternative, secret history of Ireland’s changing character and the story of a life blighted by terrible mistreatment and ignorance, and yet marked still by love and passion and hope.

2008
The Gathering – Anne Enright

The nine surviving children of the Hegarty clan gather in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother Liam. It wasn’t the drink that killed him – although that certainly helped – it was what happened to him as a boy in his grandmother’s house, in the winter of 1968. The Gathering is a novel about love and disappointment, about thwarted lust and limitless desire, and how our fate is written in the body, not in the stars.

2007
Winterwood – Patrick McCabe

Once, in Kilburn, married to the sugar-lipped Catherine and sharing his daughter Immy’s passion for the enchanted kingdom of winterwood, Redmond Hatch was happy. But then infidelity, betrayal and the ‘scary things’ from which he would protect his daughter steal into the magic kingdom, and bad things begin to happen. Now Redmond – once little Red – prowls the barren outlands alone, haunted by the disgraced shade of Ned Strange, a fiddler and teller of tales from his home in the mountainy middle of Ireland.

2006
The Sea – John Banville

When art historian Max Morden returns to the seaside village where he once spent a childhood holiday, he is both escaping from a recent loss and confronting a distant trauma. The Grace family had appeared that long-ago summer as if from another world. Mr and Mrs Grace, with their worldly ease and candour, were unlike any adults he had met before. But it was his contemporaries, the Grace twins Myles and Chloe, who most fascinated Max. He grew to know them intricately, even intimately, and what ensued would haunt him for the rest of his years and shape everything that was to follow.

2005
Havoc, in Its Third Year – Ronan Bennett

The time is the early seventeenth century, as the quarrel between Royalists and Parliamentarians turns toward civil war, and that between Catholics and Protestants leads toward bloody religious tyranny; the place is a town in northern England, set in a grim landscape swept by crop failures, plague and rumors of war, in which rigid Puritans have taken over government and imposed their own rules. At the center of the novel is John Brigge, the Coroner and a Governor of the town, though not by any means as convinced a zealot as his fellow governors have become. Married and deeply in love with Elizabeth, who is pregnant with their first child, he has a guilty secret to hide in his affection for Dorcas, his wife’s ward – a secret which, in the world of religious prejudice and extremism toward which England is moving, can be lethal. Determined to obey the law, rather than prejudice and the need to make an example of an Irishwoman accused of murdering her own infant, Brigge draws upon himself the hostility and suspicion of the powerful men who have been his fellow governors and who now set out to destroy him in the name of morality. Brigge is both sympathetic and deeply vulnerable. He genuinely loves Elizabeth and longs for their child to be born, but he is also deeply attracted to Dorcas; he is, however guardedly, of “the old faith” and does not hesitate to hide a priest; he favors the wretched vagrants who infest the roads, seeking shelter and a bite to eat, and employs one of them on his farm. He insists on finding out the truth about the Irishwoman’s baby, despite the fact that everybody has already decided on her guilt. In short, without intending to do so, John Brigge offers himself up as a victim by refusing to cooperate with the political and religious masters of the town or to subordinate his own conscience to their demand for rigid obedience and piety. Even his own clerk Adam, whom he regards as a son, turns against him in the end in a struggle that will almost cost Brigge his life and that sends him out into a cold and dangerous world, having sacrificed everything he once held dear, stripped of his power and authority, but made heroic by his commitment to love, truth and human feelings.

2004
Dancer – Colum McCann

This novel opens on a battlefield: trudging back from the front through a ravaged and icy wasteland, their horses dying around them, their own hunger rendering them almost savage, the Russian soldiers are exhausted as they reach the city of Ufa, desperate for food and shelter. They find both, and then music and dance. And there, spinning unafraid among them, dancing for the soldiers and anyone else who?ll watch him, is one small pale boy, Rudolf. This is Colum McCann?s dancer: Rudolf, a prodigy at six years old, who became the greatest dancer of the century, who redefined dance, rewrote his own life, and died of AIDS before anyone knew he had it. This is an extraordinary life transformed into extraordinary fiction by one of the most acclaimed writers of his generation.

2003
That They May Face the Rising Sun – John McGahern

Joe and Kate Ruttledge have come to Ireland from London in search of a different life. In passages of beauty and truth, the drama of a year in their lives and those of the memorable characters that move about them unfolds through the action, the rituals of work, religious observances and play. We are introduced, with deceptive simplicity, to a complete representation of existence – an enclosed world has been transformed into an Everywhere.

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When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.
Erasmus