By: Alice Lyons

Publication Date: 24 February 2020


Critically acclaimed debut novel from Alice Lyons.

Kate O’Brien Award Shortlist.

What is the sound of a voice that is alienated from itself? How can one truthfully represent the creative process of an artist? Oona, an artist-in-the-making, lives in an affluent suburban culture of first-generation immigrants in New Jersey where conspicuous consumption and white privilege prevail, and the denial of death is ubiquitous. The silence surrounding death extends to the family home where Oona is not told while her mother lies dying of cancer upstairs. Afterwards, a silence takes hold inside her: her inner life goes into a deep freeze. Emotionally hobbled, she has her first encounters with sex, drugs and other trials of adolescence.

Lyons’ first novel gives voice to a female character on her fraught journey into adulthood and charts her evolution as an artist, as her adolescent dissociation is thawed through contact with the physical world, the materials of painting and her engagement with Irish community, culture and landscape.

Set during the era of the Celtic Tiger and its aftermath, this is a resonant story conveyed in an innovative form. Written entirely without the letter ‘o’, the tone of the book reflects Oona’s inner damage and the destruction caused by hiding, omitting and obliterating parts of ourselves.

Oona, a book without an ‘o’, is an ingeniously crafted marvel’ ANNE CUNNINGHAM, IRISH INDEPENDENT

‘Extraordinary … Lyons engages deeply with a range of literatures; metabolises them; lets them inform something entirely personal, entirely unique … It might have you reaching for a copy of work by Pound or Joyce or Beckett or Williams or Stein, because it also speaks back to them … and the work of Eimear McBride, say, or Anna Burns … Oona is the result of a remarkable sensitivity to language and to experience.’ TARA McEVOY, THE STINGING FLY

The essential O: the constraint of writing my novel Oona without featuring the letter ‘o’ made me work harder to look beyond obvious ways of expressing things. Alice Lyons writes for the IRISH TIMES

Alice Lyons talks writing her first novel in the IRISH INDEPENDENT

Alice Lyons speaks to RTÉ ARENA






‘A fresh and exciting way to explore the possibilities of prose to describe the effect of trauma fracturing the self … Oona is exactly the type of book to read if you want to restore your faith in writing and new and experimental approaches to fiction. Its beautiful descriptions of place and sparkling use of colour are so incredibly vibrant it feels at times more like a painting than a novel … an original and very special read in Lyons’s masterful hands.’ LAURA KING, BOOKS IRELAND

‘A rare technical marvel’ TOM TRACEY, TOTALLY DUBLIN

‘An intensely moving experience … a tribute to the healthy state of Irish independent publishing that it continues to publish books of this calibre.’ MICHAEL O’LOUGHLIN, DUBLIN REVIEW OF BOOKS

‘The language play through this book is dazzling, but the emotional depth of the narrative and the relationships Oona makes with and through the world gives this work a singular drive. It is written entirely without the letter ‘o’, which is a feat in and of itself, but that it is done so seamlessly makes the endeavour all the more quietly impressive.’ ADRIAN DUNCAN, SUNDAY INDEPENDENT

‘Alice Lyons’s showstopping Oona is a novel without the letter ‘O’ – a feat achieved with such discretion it’s hardly noticed, though the absence betokens loss, neglect, frustration and disappearance. That’s to say nothing about this debut novel’s intensely-written, originally-cast emotional journey from suburban New Jersey to Dublin to Leitrim, escaping secrets and death as the Celtic Tiger keels over.’ DAMIAN SMYTH, BELFAST TELEGRAPH

Alice Lyons interview in the HONEST ULSTERMAN

Alice Lyons interview on BOOKS FOR BREAKFAST

‘The prose is marvellous, and immediately draws you in. It’s a shimmering bildungsroman. I knew Alice Lyons previously from her poetry and her work in the visual arts, but I was just blown away by how much I connected with the narrator of this deeply propulsive novel.’ SARAH BANNAN, ARTS COUNCIL HEAD OF LITERARTURE

‘Alice Lyons’ poetry is made at home in her prose in a most extraordinary way.’ SEBASTIAN BARRY, RTÉ TODAY

‘Lyons’ controlled verbal artistry is finely tuned to Samuel Beckett’s vocabulary. Her skill is to make language character, to place everyday objects in new settings, to render familiar words ruinous. With echoes of Lydia Davis, Beckett, Eimear McBride and Max Porter, Oona is a nuanced narrativisation of the dislocation, disruption and stasis of grief, a treatise on silence, a drift on desire and sexual awakening. SUSAN TOMASELLI

Oona is bildungsroman unlike any other, a documentation of an artist’s growth in which each lacuna, each silence, and each erasure reveals the depth of its subject. Exceptional.’ DOIREANN NÍ GHRÍOFA

‘In a voice and tone that never falters, Alice Lyons has delivered something extraordinary. On the rare occasions I noticed the absence of the letter ‘o’, it was to briefly marvel at the care and innovation it has taken to pull this off. For all her struggles, Oona fizzes with life and hope.’ LOUISE KENNEDY

‘Alice Lyons’ Oona is a lyrical immersion in a fragmented mind. A study of grief and recovery through the lens of art, colour, and landscape, Lyons charts a compelling journey towards wholeness, full of vivid imagery and astute observations. Moving and wise, few portraits of grief are so life-affirming.’ JESSICA TRAYNOR

Oona is rich in physical and psychic texture. Lyons’ eye is acute and compassionate, her voice alive to the vivid possibilities of language, the writer utterly in command of a singular vision – a virtuoso work.’ EOIN MAC NAMEE

‘A marvel of a novel that feels fully whole. It starts with a rupture of grief, then sorts through the inner and outer experience of a life lived with an independence that never quite sets, the voice always curious, wry, sensitive.’ RÓNÁN HESSION

‘Sometimes you read a book and it sparks so many thoughts and ideas and words, you just want to sit down and write. Alice Lyon’s Oona had done that for me this weekend. Such a gift.’ JAN CARSON

‘One of the most beautiful books.’ ELAINE FEENEY

‘Brilliant.’ SARA BAUME

‘It’s a testament to Lyons’ talent that this reader did not notice the missing letter until its absence was pointed out by another … Astonishing.’ CELIA JEFFRIES, MER

‘[Lyons] produces a lexicon that is impossibly lush and fertile, abundant with originality, scorching with prosodic vigour. I’d wager that several entire chapters of Oona are among the best ekphrastic prose published so far this century.’ MACKENZIE WARREN, SPLICE

‘Astounding! A poetic, unique new voice.’ SUE LEONARD, IRISH EXAMINER

‘Brimming with such complex gems … this fettered language turns up some unpredictable, inventive, beautiful turns-of-phrase, and the novel often slides seamlessly into intuitive prose-poem territory, a crafted communion between consciousness and subconsciousness.’ NIAMH MAC CABE, THE LONELY CROWD

‘A resplendent creation unlike anything you’re likely to encounter … Lyons hypnotises us with her punctilious words.’ SOPHIE GRENHAM, THE GLOSS

Read an extract from Oona on RTÉ CULTURE

Browse Oona here:


Alice Lyons is a versatile artist and film-maker. She is a recipient of the Patrick Kavanagh Award for Poetry and the Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary. Originally from the US, she has lived in the west of Ireland for twenty years. She was a Radcliffe Fellow in Poetry and New Media at Harvard University 2016/17. Her poetry film The Polish language was nominated for an Irish Television and Film Award (ifta). Throughout her career she has created work that brings literature into new contexts, media and communities. She currently lectures in creative writing at IT Sligo and is poet-in-residence with the Yeats Society, Sligo


Also available as an ebook

1 review for Oona

  1. Lilliput Press

    Oona, a book without an ‘o’, is an ingeniously crafted marvel. 


Add a review

Weight 0.5 kg
Publication Date

24 February 2020

Page Count




You may also like…