We Asked Colin Barrett to Recommend Five Books
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Colin Barrett is a writer from county Mayo, on the west coast of Ireland, and a graduate of University College Dublin’s Creative Writing MA. In November of 2014, his collection of short stories, Young Skins, received the Guardian First Book award. He also received the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, both in 2014. His work has appeared in The Stinging Fly magazine and in the anthologies Sharp Sticks, Driven Nails and Town and Country.
We asked Barrett to recommend five of his favourite books, and explain why. Here they are:
Albert Camus's The Fall
Camus’ last work of fiction is a slim but bottomlessly enigmatic novella. Written in the second person, the narrative is comprised of a series of staged monologues delivered by the self-described 'judge penitent' Jean Clemence Baptiste as he tells the tale of his modern 'fall' to a mute, passive, but somehow menacingly interrogative 'you.' Set mostly in the smoky, sullen red light district of Amsterdam, Camus reconfigures the concentric canals of the city as the Dantean circles of a contemporary hell.
Agota Kristof's The Notebook
The Notebook is a novel originally written in French by a Hungarian exile living in Switzerland. Set, nominally, during World War 2, The Notebook is an astonishingly compressed and ferocious story about two young twins, Lucas and Claus, living with their Grandmother in a small, occupied Hungarian village. The twins' voices are affectless and naïf, the narrative as clean and lean-boned as a fairy tale, but the story is packed with incredible brutality. I haven't really ever read another book quite like this.
Mike McCormack's Solar Bones
Published this year, this is a marvellously distinctive novel set in my homeland county of Mayo in the west of Ireland. The novel is made up of one unceasing sentence, a lucid stream of consciousness that wends through the mind of the middle-aged, mostly content engineer Marcus Conway as he ruminates on his life, his family, and the wonder and precarity of the larger world. Like Joyce's Ulysses, it is an encomium to the quotidian, the domestic, and the packed transience of the living moment.
Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet
Less a novel than a series of enchanting, digressive, lucid dream-reprises. There is no conventional narrative, the text is instead made up of a series of short, epigrammatic, not necessarily interconnected, paragraphs, what Pessoa called the 'factless autobiography' of one of his later egos, Bernardo Soares, as he works and lives and dreams away his life in Lisbon.
Mihail Sebastian's For Two Thousand Years
I was introduced to this book by its translator, the Irish writer Philip O'Ceallaigh. O'Ceallaigh brings Sebastian's prose to vivid life. For Two Thousand Years is another unconventional but stunning novel, the fragmented bildungsroman of a young Jewish intellectual living in the virulently anti-semitic milieu of pre-World War 2 Romania. The century was gearing up for another atrocity, and Sebastian was writing, with difficult integrity and resilient compassion, from the open, twitching jaws of the beast.