Let Me Introduce My Shelf: Colm

Image credit: Frances Hughes

1. The Commitments – Roddy Doyle

This is one of the funniest books I have ever read. It’s an account of a group of white, unemployed working-class Dubliners in the 1980s who try to start a soul band. The novel is written in a style almost exclusively consisting of speech. This means the reader is drawn to the wonderfully rude, roughly poetic dialogue of the characters. One cannot help but root for the misfits trying to carve out their own space in an Ireland racked by a sectarian conflict and crippling poverty.

2. The Communist Manifesto – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

A cliché, but this book is so historically influential it would be a crime for a history student not to have read it. Unlike most political philosophy, this book was designed for mass consumption. Consequently, it’s littered with striking and memorable phrases, such as: “A spectre is haunting Europe”. Politically, whilst parts are horrendously outdated, Marx and Engels’ account of the dynamics of capitalism remains as compelling and relevant today as it was in 1848.

3. The City and The City – China Mieville

This ‘high-concept’ novel is genre-bending fantasy, bearing no resemblance to Tolkein. It’s based on the premise that there are two fictional cities, Besźel and Ul Qoma, existing in the same space on different planes, who are in a fractious political relationship. Following the investigations of Inspector Tyador Borlú into a murder of an Ul Qoman citizen in Beszel, this is a seductively clever novel.

4. The Plague – Albert Camus

Not quite as famous as L’Etranger, nevertheless this is my favourite Camus novel. The account of how the Algerian town Oman attempts to cope with a devastating plague is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. One cannot help but be drawn to the reserved stoic heroism of Dr Bernard Rieux. The oblique references to World War Two (the novel was written in 1947), and Camus’s philosophy of the Absurd enrich the narrative.

5. The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco

An unashamedly intellectual novel written by Italian author and semiotician Eco, this is one of the most idiosyncratic murder mysteries every written. After several gruesome murders in an isolated Italian monastery in the early fourteenth century, an English Franciscan friar William of Baskerville investigates, in the process uncovering the pre-Reformation Church’s dark underbelly. A wonderfully labyrinthine tale.

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