The Dispersed and Dismissed

The World of Irish Women's Best-sellers

in Critical Survey
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  • 1 University of Bradford
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This is the opening of Patricia Scanlan’s first best-seller, City Girl, and it also marks the beginning of a compelling chapter in Irish publishing. In 1990, City Girl made the publishers, Poolbeg, a household name in Ireland, finally establishing them in the commercial market they had been chasing since Meave Binchy defected to English publishers with her break through novel Light a Penny Candle (1982). Within twelve months of City Girl’s first run, Scanlan and her editor were media celebrities and other publishers were finding suitable candidates for the packaging process – resulting in best-sellers Deirdre Purcell and Liz Ryan. By best-selling fiction I am referring to high-selling, widely read, popular fiction. The genre is identifiable by packaging, location and theme: fat books about love and relationships, four hundred pages at the least; two or three word titles often eclipsed in size and prominence by the author’s name. These books are widely available outside conventional bookshops, on sale in airports, train stations, supermarkets, large newsagents and corner shops. This thriving best-seller genre has gone largely unremarked in Irish cultural criticism. Yet there has been a remarkable coincidence between its appearance and an upsurge of feminist writing questioning the literary, historical and political heritage of ‘mother Ireland’ for Irish women.