Thirsty Ghosts

By: Emer Martin

Publication Date: 14 September 2023


Thirsty Ghosts by Emer Martin

Emer Martin’s is a radical, vital voice in Irish writing, as she challenges the history of silence, institutional lies, evasion and the mistreatment of women across mid-to-late twentieth-century Ireland.

Two families inhabit this immersive polyvocal work, an intergenerational saga announced with The Cruelty Men (2018) and continued here as punk rockers and Magdalene laundries spiral into a post-colonial Ireland still haunted by its tribal undertow. Scenes surface from Ireland’s mythological past, Tudor plantations, workhouses and industrial schools, the Troubles laid bare, the transformative pre-digital decades playing out in this propulsive narrative. Thirsty Ghosts is epic in scope while intimate in focus.

The Lyons, professionals in a newly independent state, are attacked by paramilitaries in their family home in Tyrone. The eccentric O Conaills of Kerry, traumatized by displacement, find themselves in leafy Dublin 4. We encounter a servant who meets Henry VIII, a Lithuanian Jewish family who become part of the fabric of Dublin, and a wild young girl who escapes the laundry only to stumble into a psycho pimp.

Related with dark humour, verve and high literary style, Thirsty Ghosts is a revelatory exploration of Ireland combining themes of power, class, fertility, violence and deep love, forces as universal as the old stories that permeate and illuminate each character’s life.

‘An untamed dreamtime held together by stories, this is a wild river-run of a novel about Ireland’s dark histories, narrated in the merry voice we associate with Emer Martin, one of our truly original writers. Her wry humour gives the grimmest stories an exuberant buoyancy. And seldom has English as spoken in Ireland – from rural Tyrone to south Dublin suburbia – been so perfectly conveyed on the page.’ ÉILÍS NÍ DHUIBHNE

‘Emer Martin casts a cold eye on Ireland and the Irish in this layered narrative which ranges from myths to myth-busting over the comforting fictions we tell ourselves.’ MARTINA DEVLIN

‘Inventive, freewheeling and utterly fearless, Thirsty Ghosts delves into the Irish psyche with no holds barred. An incisive and intriguing novel.’ CHRISTINE DWYER HICKEY

‘There is ambition and then there is the Great Irish Novel kind of ambition that is in Emer Martin’s Thirsty Ghosts … It is a fine balance of the savagely funny and heartbreaking.’ THE BOOKSELLER

‘To say Emer Martin’s fifth novel is epic would be an understatement. With the literary flair and love of language to match its ambition, it is breathtaking in its scope … The writing and the tangled, intergenerational stories flow beautifully. Each sentence, each word is in service of the tragically comic, the wonderfully epic story of Ireland.’ SUNDAY INDEPENDENT

‘A new book from Emer Martin is always a big deal … Emer is a singular voice’ Derek O’Connor, RTÉListen to an interview with Emer Martin on RTÉ Arena here

Read an interview with Emer Martin in the Sunday Independent here

Read an extract from Thirsty Ghosts on RTÉ Culture here

Chosen as a cultural highlight by RTÉ Culture

‘Emer Martin’s fourth novel, The Cruelty Men, was my book of the year in 2018, a searing account of one Irish family’s tribulations at the hands of church and state in the last century. Thirsty Ghosts revisits some of the same characters, albeit from a slightly different perspective. … There is a raw and savage humour here … Flann O’Brien shot through with Guillermo del Toro. Martin’s use of language is superb, from the comedic colloquialisms of rural accents with one character having “a face on her like a pig licking piss off a nettle”, to the lyrical and poetic where ghosts are likely to live “inside the grimy guts of the gloom of nights”. Thirsty Ghosts is also epic in scope. Martin skilfully juxtaposes the bloodletting of the recent and the distant past in a glorious bid to capture the power of story itself as a means to push back the darkness. A wild, magnificent book.’ SUNDAY BUSINESS POST

‘Emer Martin knows how to tell a story. Martin’s writing has a well-earned reputation of literary merit. Her latest, Thirsty Ghosts, is an epic work of multigenerational lived truth. It follows two families, and the hag—Ireland. It’s angry, beautiful and important. … Martin sees the ghosts. She gives voice to people who weren’t listened to, and that’s what makes this book so incredibly powerful. She shows us what a difference it makes to be poor, to be rich, to be impotent against the evils.’ BOOKS IRELAND

‘There are very few books that I find myself compulsively recommending to absolutely everyone I know. Emer Martin’s formidable Thirsty Ghosts is one of these few. … Martin has managed to capture an emotional history of Ireland since the birth of time — in just one novel. … It is a story of missed chances, of childhood, of politics and power, of inherited pain, of familial love, but most of all it is a story of stories — the mythology that connects us, that supports us and that keeps us alive.’ TOTALLY DUBLIN

‘A sprawling, epic powerhouse of a read’ ANNE CUNNINGHAM, MEATH CHRONICLE

The Cruelty Men is a tidal wave that drags you like a piece of debris through Irish history from the ice age to gangland Dublin. A bible of f–cked up Irishness.’ IRVINE WELSH


‘Martin is a natural storyteller with a finely tuned ear for language and symbolism.’ IRISH INDEPENDENT

‘[The Cruelty Men] should propel an already proven and prodigious talent to the forefront of contemporary Irish letters.’ IRISH TIMES

‘A dark and fascinating read [on] the nature of family, Irishness, and identity.’ THE JOURNAL

‘In the scale of its ambition, and the centrality of its subject matter, it could be said that what Martin is writing could be called the great Irish novel, if such a thing existed. What is certain, however, is that it is an essential Irish novel.’ DUBLIN REVIEW OF BOOKS

‘The dark multi-generational chronicle highlights the importance of storytelling and the innate desire for belonging. Martin, herself a wonderful storyteller, has an acute appreciation of language, symbolism and lost folklore.’ THE SUNDAY TIMES

‘The veracity and authenticity of this novel appear to be without question.’ SUNDAY INDEPENDENT

‘There’s an incandescent rage at the heart of The Cruelty Men that burns so brightly, it will sear itself onto the consciousness of all who read this powerful and moving novel.’ SUNDAY BUSINESS POST

‘Emer Martin has written a beautiful alternative history of Ireland … a book that traces the meaning of storytelling, mislaid culture and the boundless quest for belonging. The prose is captivating and seductive, it left me exhilarated and breathless, with new eyes on what it means to be Irish.’ JUNE CALDWELL

Listen to an author interview with Emer Martin on Inside Books here

‘An unstoppable tour de force … Martin’s work is extremely important; it provides a portal for people who want to learn more about Ireland and its complex and convoluted history.’ Atticus Review

Emer Martin is a Dubliner who spent formative years in Paris, London, the Middle East and New York. She now lives with her family in southern California where she teaches writing, painting and resisting. Her garlanded debut novel, Breakfast in Babylon, won Book of the Year 1996 at Listowel Writers’ Week. Her second, More Bread or I’ll Appear, was published in 1999. Baby Zero, her third novel, came out in 2007. She was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in 2000 and founded the publishing cooperative Rawmeash in 2014. The Cruelty Men was published by the Lilliput Press in 2018 and shortlisted for the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year in 2019.

Weight 0.513 kg
Dimensions 216 × 136 mm


Publication Date

14 September 2023

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