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Summer 2020 Recommended Reading

Dear friends, a chairde,

I hope you are all well and enjoying the Belgian Mediterranean summer, despite all of the challenges in this very unusual year.

While I miss seeing you in person in our embassy, it has been lovely welcoming you all onto our Zoom Embassy Book Club. It has not quite the year that we were anticipating but perhaps one which gave us even more of an appreciation of the value of arts and culture and the capacity for books to soothe and distract us and bring us closer together, even while apart, and even if it has to be online for now.

It is interesting to see how so many small pleasures that we had perhaps come to take for granted or no longer appreciate have come into their own again during this time of restriction - walking and cycling and listening to the birds. Baking and painting had a renewed popularity too and flour or paint was certainly the business to be in! Perhaps this has to do with using our hands, or simply undertaking a project with a quick, cheering and positive result. There was a new focus on nostalgia and on the old familiar pleasures of childhood. Jigsaws, cards and board games have been selling out everywhere, as both solitary and community pleasures, when staying indoors. The Irish-invented and produced game “30 Seconds” seems to have become incredibly popular. And did you know that many of our most popular board games are made in Waterford, by a Belgian company - Carta Mundi! Another delightful Irish/Belgian connection. 

Music, poetry, drama, literature, all of the creative arts are to the fore now, with fresh appreciation of their merits and with numerous offerings online, creating new, more accessible and more affordable platforms for many, including for festivals and performances that might otherwise have smaller audiences in person – one of the positive lessons that is already being drawn from these times.

Our colleagues in Irish embassies around the world have also organised online events from book clubs, to musical performances, to Bloomsday readings and creative competitions that engaged with film, art and writing.

In this newsletter, you can learn more about our latest contribution to these innovative approaches – a community photography project with a virtual gallery, mirrored in Brussels and Dublin, some great prizes (and surprises) for both over and under 18s. We hope that you will enjoy the gallery and that this project will help us to remain closely connected and in each other’s thoughts, even while apart.

But back to the books - as you know, we had planned our reading year around the theme of #VisibleWomen2020. We were fortunate enough to have renowned Irish author Catherine Dunne as our special guest in January, for a really insightful discussion and reading from her novel “The Years That Followed”. Catherine spoke beautifully about her work and the art of writing at an event that none of us will easily forget. We have enjoyed similar impactful visits over recent times here by some of the very best and most engaging of Irish writers, including Dermot Bolger, Niamh Boyce, Nessa O’Mahony.

In February, we had a lively discussion of the stunning “Things in Jars” by Jess Kidd and, in our very last in-person events on 7-8 March, we were delighted to bring Eilis Ni Dhuibhne and David Park to Bruges, in a lovely collaboration with our good friends at the Library there – David’s novel “Travelling In a Strange Land” had been another Book Club favourite back in December 2019 and Eilis’ latest book, the memoir “A Thousand Days” is a deeply moving and a beautiful book to cherish.

By April, all had changed utterly and we had moved successfully onto Zoom, thanks to the skills of our colleague Anna, and we have been zooming away ever since, with great conversations about all our reads so far – the stunning “Actress” by Anne Enright, the thrills of “The Guest List” by Lucy Foley (our Waterstones Christmas Celebration special guest), and a very special Bloomsday discussion of “The River Capture”, by Mary Costello who was part of our memorable One City One Book event at Passaporta in October 2018. If you are a Ulysses fan, please do check out our wonderful online collaboration this year with the talented Irish Theatre Group, 3 stunning new short films which are featured here, as well as a Global Bloomsday film curated by our HQ and our neighbours at MoLI Museum.

Next up for the Book Club will be “Night Swimming” by Doreen Finn and I am currently really enjoying this poignant, charming and witty read, set in an Irish heatwave summer of the 1970s and perfect for this time of year. In September, we will discuss “Akin” by Emma Donoghue, I think her tenth novel, and as I have already finished it in one weekend, I can highly recommend!

We will take a short book club break in August but I did promise you some Summer Reading Recommendations too, and as there are so many brilliant new publications by Irish women writers this year, it is going to be a long list, which you can find below and do feel free to tweet at me @helenajuly if I have missed out any of your own favourites (Note: some of these are short story collections, perfect to dip into):


Strange Hotel Eimear McBride
Big Girl Small Town Michelle Gallen
Our Little Cruelties Liz Nugent
Exciting Times Naoise Dolan
The Weight of Love Hilary Fanin
The Wild Laughter Caoilinn Hughes
The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually Helen Cullen
Ready for Her Close-up Ann Devine
The Temple House Vanishing Rachel Donohue
As You Were Elaine Feeney
A Ghost in the Throat Doireann Ní Ghiofra
Oona Alice Lyons
A Talented Man Henrietta McKervey
Hamnet Maggie O'Farrell
The Cutting Place  Jane Casey
I Confess Alex Barclay
Modern Times Cathy Sweeney
The Paris Syndrome Lucy Sweeney Byrne
Being Various

Lucy Caldwell

Happy summer, happy reading, stay safe and well, hope to see you on 16 July and we will welcome you back to the Zoom Embassy Book Club in September.

Helena and the team

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