Of course I must feature an Irish writer today, no easy task because the Irish have made a mighty contribution to literature and it's hard to choose among them. I used to like Edna O'Brien a lot, but it's been so long since I've read anything by her, I can't write intelligently about any of her books.
Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane is another good Irish novel, but again, I read it so long ago, I can only give you the vaguest recommendation. I read it when I was pregnant with Seamus and it enabled me to accept "Seamus" as a name for one of my children--Jon had been pushing for it every time I was pregnant and I'd resisted, not wanting to inflict an Irish spelling/phonetic mismatch on a child and have him go through life being called SEEmus--which is exactly what has happened, especially in dentist office waiting rooms. I finally made a point, at the dentist, on how to pronounce Seamus and now the postcards that come to remind him of his next cleaning are addressed to SHAY-mus.
Anyway, even though we've already discussed J.G. Farrell's Troubles, I am assigning another book of his because not only is he Irish, he's one of the best writers of the twentieth century and The Siege of Krishnapur is his best novel, in my opinion. How can you not read the best novel of one of the best writers of the twentieth century? The Siege of Krishnapur is classic Farrell: a deadly serious topic treated with humor and insight. A group of British people are besieged in India during the Sepoy Rebellion in 1857.
It has been a long time since I've read this book, but what I remember about it is that Farrell describes people who are placed in extreme stress--the heat is intolerable, they don't have enough food, they're being shot at, they have a cholera outbreak--and yet despite these large issues some of them can't let go of their possessions or their petty Victorian snobberies. The possessions and the snobberies seem to hold equal value, if I remember correctly. An excellent study of human nature, horrifying and funny at the same time.