The Greatest Irish "Fiction, Historical fiction" Books Since 1900

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 280 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed books. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details can be found on the rankings page.

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Historical fiction

Historical fiction is a genre of literature that combines fictional stories with real historical events, settings, and characters. These books often take place in a specific time period and are based on research and factual information, but also include imaginative elements to create a compelling narrative. Historical fiction allows readers to experience the past in a unique and engaging way, while also providing insight into the social, cultural, and political issues of the time.

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  1. 1. Amongst Women by John McGahern

    "Amongst Women" is a novel that tells the story of Michael Moran, a bitter, aging Irish Republican Army (IRA) veteran, and his relationships with his wife and five children. The narrative explores themes of family, power, love, and the struggle between freedom and control. Moran's domineering personality and the effects of his past experiences in the IRA have a profound impact on his family, shaping their lives and relationships in complex and often destructive ways.

  2. 2. Strumpet City by James Plunkett

    "Strumpet City" is a historical novel set in Dublin, Ireland, during the 1913 Dublin Lockout. The narrative follows a diverse group of characters from different social classes as they navigate the struggles and hardships of life during this tumultuous time. The book vividly depicts the poverty, exploitation, and political unrest of the era, offering a rich and detailed portrait of Dublin and its people in the early 20th century.

  3. 3. Good Behaviour by Molly Keane

    "Good Behaviour" is a darkly humorous and compelling novel that delves into the dysfunctional lives of the St. Charles family. Set in the early 20th century, the story is narrated by Aroon, the youngest daughter, who chronicles her family's eccentricities, secrets, and the complex dynamics that shape their relationships. As Aroon navigates her way through a world of privilege and societal expectations, she grapples with her own desires and the consequences of her actions. With sharp wit and keen observations, the novel explores themes of love, betrayal, and the lengths people will go to maintain appearances.

  4. 4. The Bitter Glass by Eilís Dillon

    "The Bitter Glass" is a historical novel set in Ireland during the 1920s, a time of political upheaval and civil war. The story follows the life of a young man who becomes embroiled in the conflict, despite his initial reluctance. As he navigates through the complexities of love, loyalty, and patriotism, he is forced to confront the harsh realities of war and the profound impact it has on individuals and communities. The book offers a poignant exploration of human nature, the struggle for freedom, and the cost of political strife.

  5. 5. Langrishe, Go Down by Aidan Higgins

    "Langrishe, Go Down" by Aidan Higgins is a poignant and introspective novel that delves into the lives of the Langrishe sisters, Imogen and Helen, as they navigate their way through the complexities of love, loss, and longing in rural Ireland. Set in the 1930s, this beautifully written narrative explores the sisters' turbulent relationships with the men in their lives and their struggle to find their own identities amidst societal expectations. With vivid descriptions and emotional depth, the novel captures the essence of a bygone era and offers a profound exploration of the human experience.

  6. 6. Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

    The novel tells the story of a young Irish woman, Eilis Lacey, in the 1950s who, unable to find work at home, is sent to Brooklyn by a helpful priest where she builds a new life. She finds work, studies to become a bookkeeper, and falls in love with an Italian plumber named Tony. However, a family tragedy forces her to return to Ireland, where she must choose between her new life in America and her old life at home.

  7. 7. A Belfast Woman by Mary Beckett

    The book is a poignant collection of short stories that delve into the lives of women from Belfast, Northern Ireland, during the tumultuous times of the Troubles. Through a series of intimate narratives, the author explores the complex emotions, daily struggles, and the resilience of women as they navigate a society riven by political conflict. The stories offer a nuanced portrayal of the female experience, highlighting themes of family, love, loss, and the quest for personal identity against a backdrop of violence and social upheaval.

  8. 8. The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen

    This novel is set in Ireland during the 1920s, against the backdrop of the Irish War of Independence. It centers around the lives of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, focusing on the Naylor family who reside in a big country house in County Cork. The story captures the end of an era, as the political upheaval outside threatens the insulated, decaying world of the Anglo-Irish gentry. Through the eyes of Lois Farquar, a young woman staying with her relatives, the Naylors, the narrative explores themes of identity, love, and the painful transition from the security of adolescence to the uncertainties of adulthood, all while the established social order around them is crumbling.

  9. 9. The House Of Splendid Isolation by Edna O'Brien

    The book tells the story of an old woman living in isolation in a grand but dilapidated house in rural Ireland. Her quiet life is disrupted when a fugitive on the run from the law invades her home. As she's forced to coexist with him, she begins to reflect on her own past and the history of the Irish people, leading to a complex exploration of themes such as loneliness, regret, and the struggle for national identity.

  10. 10. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

    This novel follows the story of a young boy who moves from Berlin to a house near a concentration camp during World War II. Unaware of the grim reality of his surroundings, he befriends another boy on the other side of the camp fence. The two develop a deep friendship despite the horrific circumstances, leading to a devastating and unforgettable ending.

  11. 11. How Many Miles To Babylon? by Jennifer Johnston

    "How Many Miles To Babylon?" is a poignant and gripping novel set during World War I, exploring the complex friendship between two young Irishmen, Alec and Jerry. Born into different social classes, their lives intertwine as they navigate the harsh realities of war, family expectations, and their own desires for freedom and happiness. As they face the horrors of the trenches and the devastating consequences of their choices, the novel delves into themes of love, sacrifice, and the futility of war, leaving readers with a profound reflection on the human condition.

  12. 12. The Land Of Spices by Kate O'Brien

    "The Land of Spices" by Kate O'Brien is a captivating novel set in a Catholic convent school in Ireland during the early 20th century. The story follows the life of Mother Marie-Helene, a French nun who becomes the headmistress of the school. As she navigates the challenges of her position, she also grapples with her own desires and the conflicts between her faith and her personal longings. Through vivid descriptions and complex characters, the novel explores themes of love, duty, and the struggle to reconcile one's desires with societal expectations.

  13. 13. The Emperor Of Ice Cream by Brian Moore

    "The Emperor of Ice Cream" is a captivating novel that follows the life of a young Irish immigrant named Gavin Burke, who moves to New York City in search of a better future. Set in the 1920s, the story explores Gavin's struggles and triumphs as he navigates the harsh realities of the city, including poverty, discrimination, and the allure of the American Dream. With vivid descriptions and compelling characters, the book delves into themes of identity, love, and the pursuit of happiness, painting a poignant portrait of one man's journey towards self-discovery and acceptance.

  14. 14. The Big Chapel by Thomas Kilroy

    "The Big Chapel" is a captivating novel that delves into the lives of a small Irish community in the 1950s. Set against the backdrop of religious and political tensions, the story follows the lives of two brothers, Brendan and Michael, as they navigate their way through a changing world. As they grow older, their paths diverge, with Brendan embracing the priesthood and Michael becoming involved in the political turmoil of the time. Through vivid storytelling and rich character development, the book explores themes of identity, faith, and the complexities of family relationships.

  15. 15. Fools of Fortune by William Trevor

    "Fools of Fortune" is a tragic tale that follows the lives of the Quinton family, an Anglo-Irish family living in Ireland, during the early 20th century. The family's fortune takes a turn for the worse after a devastating fire, believed to be an act of revenge by Irish nationalists, claims the lives of several family members. The surviving members are left to grapple with their loss, guilt, and the political turmoil of their time, leading to a cycle of self-destruction and a desperate search for redemption.

  16. 16. Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

    "Days Without End" is a historical fiction novel that follows the life of an Irish immigrant who enlists in the U.S. Army in the 1850s. The protagonist's experiences include fighting in the Indian Wars and the Civil War, as well as falling in love with a fellow soldier. The novel explores themes of identity, love, and survival in a brutal and unforgiving era of American history.

  17. 17. A Fanatic Heart by Edna O'Brien

    "A Fanatic Heart" is a collection of short stories that delve into the complexities of human emotions and relationships, often set against the backdrop of Ireland's lush landscapes and social upheavals. The narratives explore themes of love, betrayal, and the struggles of the human spirit through a variety of characters, from young girls to aging men, each grappling with their own desires, regrets, and search for meaning. The author's lyrical prose and keen insight into the intricacies of the heart and society weave together tales that are both poignant and revealing, offering a window into the soul of her characters and the cultural tensions of the time.

  18. 18. The South by Colm Tóibín

    "The South" by Colm Toibin is a compelling novel that follows the journey of a young Irish woman named Katherine as she leaves her troubled marriage behind and embarks on a new life in Spain. Set against the backdrop of political unrest and cultural differences, Katherine's experiences in the vibrant and mysterious south of Spain shape her identity and challenge her perceptions of love, art, and self-discovery. With rich prose and nuanced characters, Toibin explores themes of longing, transformation, and the complexities of human relationships in this captivating tale.

  19. 19. Reading In The Dark by Seamus Deane

    "Reading In The Dark" is a captivating novel that delves into the complex history of Northern Ireland through the eyes of an unnamed protagonist. Set against the backdrop of political turmoil and sectarian violence, the story follows the protagonist's journey of self-discovery as he unravels family secrets and confronts the ghosts of the past. Seamlessly blending personal and political narratives, the book explores themes of memory, identity, and the power of storytelling, ultimately offering a poignant reflection on the lasting impact of history on individuals and communities.

  20. 20. Reading Turgenev by William Trevor

    The novella presents the poignant tale of a young Irish woman trapped in a stifling marriage, who finds solace and escape in her imagination and the literature of Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev. Her life, constrained by the expectations of her small rural community and a loveless union with an older man, contrasts sharply with the passionate world she encounters in the novels she cherishes. As she retreats further into her fantasies and the comfort of her secret attic space, the lines between reality and fiction blur, offering both a refuge and a haunting reminder of the life she yearns for but cannot openly pursue.

  21. 21. A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry

    This novel vividly captures the harrowing experiences of a young Irish soldier caught in the brutal trenches of World War I. As he navigates the horrors of war, he also grapples with the complex political tensions of his homeland, torn between loyalty to the British forces and the rising call for Irish independence. Through his journey, the protagonist confronts the brutal realities of conflict, the bonds of camaraderie, and the personal quest for identity amidst the chaos of war and the shifting landscapes of early 20th-century Ireland. The narrative combines historical detail with profound emotional depth, exploring themes of loyalty, identity, and the devastating impact of war on the human spirit.

  22. 22. This Side Of Brightness by Colum McCann

    The novel delves into the lives of tunnel diggers beneath New York City at the turn of the 20th century, juxtaposing their stories with those of their descendants in the 1990s. It explores themes of racial tension, poverty, and the enduring human spirit through the interwoven narratives of a black sandhog who survives a harrowing tunnel collapse and his grandson, grappling with a life on the fringes of society. As the tale unfolds, it reveals the deep connections between past and present, and the invisible threads that bind the city's history to the fates of its inhabitants.

  23. 23. Without My Cloak by Kate O'Brien

    "Without My Cloak" is a captivating novel set in 19th century Ireland, exploring the lives of a wealthy Anglo-Irish family and their struggles with love, loyalty, and societal expectations. The story follows the complex relationships between family members, revealing their secrets, desires, and the consequences of their actions. Through vivid descriptions and compelling characters, the book delves into themes of identity, class divisions, and the clash between tradition and modernity in a changing society.

  24. 24. Doctor Copernicus by John Banville

    "Doctor Copernicus" is a historical novel that delves into the life of the renowned astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. Set in the 16th century, the book explores Copernicus' journey from a young boy growing up in Poland to his groundbreaking discovery that the Earth revolves around the Sun. As the protagonist grapples with his scientific findings and the implications they have on his faith and the world around him, the narrative also delves into his personal relationships, inner struggles, and the societal and political context of the time. Through vivid prose and meticulous research, the novel offers a captivating exploration of one of history's most influential figures.

  25. 25. The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry

    "The Secret Scripture" is a deeply moving tale of Roseanne McNulty, a centenarian who has spent most of her life in a mental institution in Ireland. As the institution is about to be demolished, her psychiatrist Dr. Grene must determine whether she's fit to be released. As he delves into her past, Roseanne reveals her life story through a secret memoir she's been writing. The narrative alternates between Roseanne's recollections and Dr. Grene's observations, revealing a tragic and complex history of Ireland's social and political changes, while also exploring themes of memory, identity, and sanity.

Reading Statistics

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If you're interested in downloading this list as a CSV file for use in a spreadsheet application, you can easily do so by clicking the button below. Please note that to ensure a manageable file size and faster download, the CSV will include details for only the first 500 books.