Jennifer Johnston

© Hachette Ireland

(1930)

Jennifer Johnston was born in Dublin, the daughter of dramatist Denis Johnston and actress and director Shelah Richards. She was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and settled in Derry in the 1970s. Johnston's novels are informed by an acute awareness of the divisions running not only across the country, but also across human relations and in them she continually explores possibilities of building spaces where conflicting identities can co-exist. Her first novel, The Captains and the Kings (1972), was published to great acclaim and won the Robert Pitman Award and the Yorkshire Post Prize. Since then, Jennifer Johnston has written twelve novels, some of which have been adapted for TV. Shadows on our Skin (1977) was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and The Old Jest won the Whitbread Award for the best novel of 1979. A selection of her plays was published in 2003 by New Island Books. Johnston's most recent novels are Grace and Truth (2005), Foolish Mortals (2007) and Truth or Fiction (2009). Jennifer Johnston was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Irish Book Awards in 2012 and is a member of Aosdána.

Books
© Belfond

Foolish Mortals

Headline Review, 2007

All families are complicated, but some are more complicated than others. And Christmas can only make matters worse. After Ciara's estranged father is nearly killed by his second wife in a car accident - or was it an accident? - Ciara begins, gingerly, to re-enter his life. As her troubled family gather for the holidays, is it too much to hope that they begin to find peace at last? Of course it is. With cross-dressing twins, new loves and an unpredictably monstrous matriarch, Christmas was never going to be easy. But it proves both more disastrous and happier than any of them could have guessed.

Translated into

French

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© Belfond

Grace and Truth

Scribner, 2003

Sally, a successful actress, has just returned to Ireland from a long European tour. Exhausted, she wants only to rest and to see her husband Charlie again. But Charlie announces that he is leaving her, and Sally, devastated and furious, makes him pack his bags at once. Maybe though, she wonders later, she really is too hard to live with? As a child growing up in Dublin, Sally never had friends around to play: her lonely secretive, unmarried mother had kept her close to her side.

Translated into

Slovenian, French, Croatian

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© Disput, 2011

Shadows on our Skin

Hamilton, 1977

Derry in the 1970s: teenager Joe Logan is growing up in the teeth of the Troubles, having to cope with embittered parents, a brother who's been away and come back with money and a gun in his pocket, harsh school teachers, and the constant awareness of the military presence in the background. Central to the story is the friendship that tentatively grows between Joe and Kathleen, a young school-teacher who brings a fresh perspective to his familiar world.

Shadows on our Skin, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1977, was re-issued in paperback by Headline Review in 2004.

 

 

Translated into

Croatian

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© Academia

The Captains and the Kings

Hamilton, 1972

For this her first novel, Johnston won the Yorkshire Post Book Award and the Evening Standard Award for Best First Novel. In it, she charts the decline of the Big House and the Ascendencay represented by aged Mr Prendergast who remembers his loveless marriage, his ghost of a father, and, with bitterness, his bejewelled mother, who lavished love on his brother. Then young Diarmid arrives, offering him gifts of curiosity, innocence and friendship.

Translated into

Czech

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© Academia

The Christmas Tree

Hamilton, 1981

Constance Keating has lived a life of exile, alienated from her family and from Ireland. Now she has returned home to die. And, as the Christmas tree awaits its day, so she also waits, hoping that the outcome will be on her terms.

Translated into

Czech

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© Belfond

The Gingerbread Woman

Review, 2000

Clara, a freelance writer and lecturer, is recovering from major surgery and nursing a broken heart after a failed love affair in New York. Meanwhile Laurence (Lar), a teacher from Northern Ireland, is mourning the loss of his wife and ten-month old daughter, who were killed two years earlier. Alternating the narrative voice, Johnston lets Clara's and Lar's stories unravel gradually to describe how these two unconventional people form a fragile friendship.

Translated into

French

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© Editions Jacqueline Chambron

The Illusionist

Sinclair-Stevenson, 1995

When Stella first meets Martyn, he is just a stranger on a train. She knows nothing at all about him, but very quickly she is won over by his charm and breathtaking illusions. When he asks her to marry him, she agrees. But as they begin their life together, Stella starts to feel uneasy. What exactly is the show-stopping illusion he claims to be working on, locked away in a room? Who are the men that visit the house at strange hours? And why are her questions never answered? As Stella realises that she barely knows the man she married, her thoughts turn to escape.

Translated into

French

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© Humanitas Publishing House, 2009

The Railway Station Man

Hamilton, 1984

Following her husband's accidental murder by an IRA gunman, Helen Cuffe retreats to the remote north-west coast of County Donegal to paint the sea and the shore, and to be alone with her past. Her isolation is pieced by the arrival of English war hero Roger Hawthorne who settles in the neglected railway station house nearby. Mutilated and sick at heart, with the help of a young lad, Damian, he begins painstakingly to restore the derelict branch line station. Soon Roger and Helen form a bond which, over gramophone music, dancing and champagne, deepens into love. But Helen, enjoying her first taste of happiness in years, is to learn just how brutally fleeting it can be.

 

Translated into

Romanian

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© Belfond

This Is Not a Novel

Review, 2002

Johnny, an outstanding swimmer, went missing nearly 30 years ago. He drowned, or so everyone, except his sister believes. But how could that have happened, he could have been an Olympic champion. Imogen Bailey, the narrator, tells the events leading to her brother's disappearance and to her own breakdown when she was just 18 years old. Her account is an appeal to her brother who she believes is still alive.

Translated into

French

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© Uniscorp

Two Moons

Review, 1998

In a house overlooking Dublin Bay, Mimi and her daughter Grace are disturbed by the unexpected arrival of Grace's daughter Polly and her striking new boyfriend. The events of the next few days will move both of them to reassess their lives. While Grace's visitors lead her to consider an uncertain future, Mimi, who receives a messenger of a very different kind, must begin to set herself to rights with the betrayals and disappointments of the past.

Translated into

Bulgarian

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