11 Books to Read if You Loved The Banshees of Inisherin
From his playwright days of The Beauty Queen of Leenane to cult favorite independent film In Bruges, to Oscar-winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, I’m a big fan of Martin McDonagh’s works. Every time I see his name on a byline or slotted as director, I make a note on my calendar of his works’ release date.
The Banshees of Inisherin is no exception: I’ve been excited since I first saw its trailer—and I have a thing about watching trailers. You’re undoubtedly a fan of the mystery (otherwise how would you find yourself here?), so you probably do the same thing I do. My brain immediately starts processing for clues. So much so that I have to turn the trailer off the moment that I decide I want to see a movie. I don’t want to know anything more than I should when I go into the theater.
There’s a few things we can expect from a McDonagh work, though: we always get snappy, wry dialogue befitting the characters themselves, but certainly stylistically his. We get the dark comedy, observational humor, like the repeated line, “It seems like we’re rowing.” There’s always a real story at the heart of his dramas, too. And even though he says he doesn’t think about setting when he’s writing, they all have some truly beautiful vistas and shots.
Again, Banshees is no exception to any of those qualities, either, and in this film, we have the rich Irish history and folklore to draw from, too. So, if you loved Banshees, or even if you just love the idea of it, here are eleven books that might also draw you in.
If you are as invested in the history, then you’ll like this one. Amid the religious fanaticism of the mid-19th century, an English nurse (who served under Florence Nightingale) is sent into the Irish midlands for a strange purpose: an 11-year-old girl has not eaten in four months, but she’s fine. Nurse Libby Wright trades shifts with a nun to observe Anna O’Donnell, whose religious fervor has become the equivalent of a local tourist attraction. The Wonder is a great read for those craving the same building suspense as The Banshees of Inisherin, as well as the common thread that something supernatural must be afoot. If you prefer your drama onscreen, you can stream its film adaptation on Netflix in the U.S. on November 16.
Reaching back even further into Irish history, this same author (whom I adore, after her novel, Room) writes of a trio of three priests, one a scholar, and two monks. They set out down the River Shannon to stake a monastery on a remote, barren island (not unlike Inisherin itself, I think). It all should be peaceful, with as beautiful a setting as that, but even in a newfounded sacred place, the human spirit won’t allow it. This novel is a new release, so be sure to get it hot off the press.
The Butchers' Blessing
Each year, Una’s father leaves town with the other butchers to follow an ancient rite, the ritual slaughter of the cattle. This novel crosses horror with coming-of-age as plotlines merge over oceans of time. It’s a fascinating work of fiction, full of folkloric amalgams that have the characters questioning their realities.
by Carol Higgins Clark
A second traditional thriller, Twanged is set in the Hamptons, but it does feature an Irish fiddle like Colm Doherty (Brendan Geeson)’s… only this “magical” one doesn’t just play the “Banshees of Inisherin” tune: it’s said to curse anyone who takes it out of Ireland. It’s a quick, fun read that’ll sate an interest in Irish thrill without requiring much of the reader.
True thriller fans hail John le Carre as the gold standard: his espionage books pull from his real life experience working for MI5 during the Cold War, and The Mission Song is among few that have an even semi-Irish character. (Bruno Salvador joins the British Intelligence as a top interpreter after being abandoned by both his Irish father and Congolese mother in his childhood. He is hired to interpret for a conference between Congolese warlords and Western backers who want to stage a coup to install a liberal figurehead to power. And Bruno is caught right in the crossfire.) Nonetheless, following Brexit, the author himself provided the “final twist: dying as an Irishman.”
The Last Hurrah
Edwin O'Connor; Jack Beatty (Introduction by)
This one follows the Irish-American politics on the East Coast during the 1950s, which is a real nod to the Kennedy family. Its biggest similarity to the Banshees film to me is that both the Irish mayor James M. Curley and Colm Doherty of the film feel their imminent mortality, and they want to really smoke that last cigarette to the filter. But if nothing else, you at least have the film adaptation starring Spencer Tracy to enjoy!
The Cooper's Wife Is Missing: The Trials Of Bridget Cleary
by Joan Hoff
by Marian Yates
This book of historical true crime is likely my favorite one on this list. Like Banshees, horrible things happen in this town, but here, they claim that the fairy world is to blame. Let me explain: Bridget Cleary was a pretty, self-sufficient woman in County Tipperary. One day, when she acted strange, her family realized that she must be a changeling, a fairy left in place of Bridget herself, and that she must be exorcised to bring the real Bridget back. This is a true account of not only how these crimes happened, but the historical setting that allowed them to happen at all.
What to Read Next
Mary Kay McBrayer is the author of America’s First Female Serial Killer: Jane Toppan and the Making of a Monster. You can find her short works at Oxford American, Narratively, Mental Floss, and FANGORIA, among other publications. She co-hosts Everything Trying to Kill You, the comedy podcast that analyzes your favorite horror movies from the perspectives of women of color. Follow Mary Kay McBrayer on Instagram and Twitter, or check out her author site here.