In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Contemporary Irish Novel

  • Introduction

British and Irish Literature The Contemporary Irish Novel
Liam Harte
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 February 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0038


If not quite constituting the literary “renaissance” that some commentators deem it to be, Irish fiction of the late 20th and early 21st centuries has certainly been invigorated by a succession of distinctive new voices. Since the 1980s Roddy Doyle, Patrick McCabe, Colm Tóibín, Emma Donoghue, Anne Enright, Sebastian Barry, Deirdre Madden, Colum McCann, Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, and others have had a revivifying collective effect on the contemporary Irish novel’s thematic range, formal possibilities, and stylistic affiliations. Competing for shelf space with established figures such as William Trevor, Edna O’Brien, Jennifer Johnston, John McGahern, Bernard MacLaverty, and John Banville, this post-1950 generation has diversified the contemporary canon and transfused it with expansive impulses. Together with their older contemporaries, these novelists have produced a socially significant body of writing, the persistent concerns of which have been, on the one hand, a desire to come to terms with the unprecedented processes of change that define the present cultural moment and, on the other, the imperative to engage with the complications, paradoxes, and silences of a national past that has been subject to continual interrogation and revision. Not all of Ireland’s contemporary novelists have been shaped by the same forces and contexts, however. Many, indeed, have been more responsive to international trends and influences than national ones, particularly that growing cohort of writers who live and write abroad. As for the home-based contingent, novelists in the Republic of Ireland have been writing against a backdrop of a socially conservative society undergoing profound upheaval as a result of the fabled economic revival of the period 1995–2008, which transformed Ireland into a highly globalized society and, in tandem with several other factors, accelerated a host of social and attitudinal shifts. Northern Irish novelists, meanwhile, have witnessed their province’s protracted transition from violent political turmoil to civic normality, the catalyst for which was the 1998 Belfast Agreement, which laid the foundation for the establishment of a devolved power-sharing executive. The changed realities that these and other recent developments have given rise to have challenged Irish novelists to find new ways of telling stories about places and people whose identities are defined as much by mobility and technology as stability and tradition.

General Overviews and Critical Studies

This section provides a selective guide to the most useful sources on the contemporary Irish novel, thematically subdivided into four sections: General Histories; The Novel and the Northern Troubles; Nation, Gender, and Sexuality; and Emigration, Ethnicity, and Transnationalism.

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