The Peerless Jennifer Johnston
June 16, 2016
Irish literature is one of the most respected and rich canons in the history of English literature. The plentiful list of talent includes names we instantly recognise: Wilde, Joyce, Beckett; and then more recently the likes of Anne Enright, Roddy Doyle and Colm Tóibín. There is one author however, that while becoming one of the most respected writers Ireland has to offer, has never achieved the fame that these illustrious folk have overseas. Jennifer Johnson has won the Costa, been shortlisted for the Man Booker, achieved stunning critical praise, won the hearts of her contemporaries; and yet her significant body of work has never achieved the recognition other authors have enjoyed beyond the shores of Ireland.
This may in part be due to the fact that Jennifer takes on intensely challenging subjects – her novels regularly tackle themes such as incest, sexual assault and the Troubles, to name but a few. However, these subjects played out in Jennifer‘s distinctive, sparse writing style make for a unique, rewarding and incredibly moving reading experience. I believe that the fact some of her greatest work remains undiscovered is a loss for literary fiction readers. There is a temptation due to her popularity within the writing community to describe Jennifer as a ‘writer’s writer’. The praise from fellow authors certainly bears this out. Roddy Doyle has described her as ‘the best writer in Ireland’ while Dermot Bolger summed up her most recent work as ’wonderful’ and ‘evocative’.
Today, we publish her new novel, NAMING THE STARS, together with one of her classic works, TWO MOONS. NAMING THE STARS tells the story of Flora, a woman spending the evening reminiscing about her childhood with her life-long housekeeper, Nellie. As the evening progresses, Flora and Nellie reveal to each other the truth about the secrets that have lain dormant in their household over the past 60 years, bringing old hurts and betrayals to light. TWO MOONS is considered a classic of Jennifer’s oeuvre, dealing with the realities and treacheries of family life. One of the most appealing characters is Mimi, the family grandmother, who has recently begun receiving visits from a friendly apparition; namely, an Italian angel by the name of Bonifacio. Jennifer excels in drawing her characters in a rich and vibrant way and Mimi with her eccentric ways has to be one of my favourites. Combined, the novels make a brilliant introduction to Jennifer’s work.
I hope I’ve tempted you to sample some of Jennifer’s incredible prose – as a fan of literary fiction, I feel you won’t be disappointed. And if you still don’t believe me, perhaps you’ll believe one of these people:
‘She has created a world of her own…of such material is the finest literature made’ Irish Times
‘A brilliant storyteller’ Literary Review
‘Such elegant writing, such subtle cameo portraits, such a skilled professional’ The Times
‘The quiet, elegiac prose is well sustained’ Guardian
‘One of Ireland’s finest writers’ Sunday Tribune
‘One of our most impressive novelists’ Sunday Express
‘Subtle, moving and beautifully constructed’ The Sunday Times
‘[A] radiant descriptive gift’ Spectator
‘Written in Johnston’s usual haunting prose, where no word is unnecessary’ Maeve Binchy
‘Stunning’ Daily Express
‘Superb’ Irish Sunday Independent
‘A very nearly perfect novel of broad, regretful vision and magical intimacy’ Sunday Telegraph
‘Her writing is a joy: dialogue snaps with life while Johnston’s distinctive prose is at once supremely comfortable and delightfully brisk’ Daily Mail
‘The Costa prizewinner and Booker-shortlisted Johnston knows how to tell a story succinctly…[she writes with] the deceptive ease of a skilled craftswoman…further proof of her skill as a writer’ Irish Independent
To sample some of Jennifer’s writing for free, download our Reader’s Guide:
Amy Perkins @amyperky