Eilís Dillon: The Novels

Author Photo Eilís Dillon published eight novels, which appeared in England and America; some were also translated into German. They attracted a good deal of critical acclaim, and the later ones regularly featured in the bestseller lists. This page offers a quick guide to the novels, and links to some of the critical reactions. Her most famous book remains "Across the Bitter Sea"; this is featured on a separate page, as are her first and last published novels, "The Bitter Glass" (1958) and "The Interloper" (1987).

The Bitter Glass
London, Faber, 1958;
New York, Appleton Century Crofts, 1959
Dublin, Ward River Press, 1981
Dublin, Poolbeg Press, 1987
A powerful novel set in the West of Ireland during the Civil War. A group of young people, cut off in Connemara by IRA action, are forced to come to terms with life and death.

"An excellent piece of work to me, full of reality, full of poetry, written with a very sure and sensitive hand. I was completely won by it. I thought the world of Connemara was flawlessly conveyed to a reader who might, or might not, have ever seen it in life. I was never more at home in a book." (Eudora Welty)

More about this book on a separate page


The Head of the Family
London, Faber, 1960
Set in Dublin, this psychological novel explores the tensions and jealousies surrounding a literary patriarch, his multi-generational household, and the outsiders who come to pay homage in their different ways.

"An excellent, bitter comedy ... a little horror-comic about human nature ... tremendously enjoyable" (The Guardian)

Read more reviews


Bold John Henebry
London, Faber, 1965
The story of an Irish adventurer and patriot, charting his progress from rural poverty to a position of wealth and power. John Henebry's story is intertwined with the history of Ireland in the twentieth century.

"A rich family chronicle ... Ireland, its politics and conflicts, come across strongly and the smaller world of Henebry's family is evoked with precision and great tenderness." (Sunday Times)
"Excellent reading, well told." (Creation)


Across the Bitter Sea
New York, Simon and Schuster, 1973;
London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1974
Hailed as "a triumph", Eilís Dillon's big historcal novel was not only an instant bestseller but also a huge critical success.

"A quite remarkable novel ... a huge panorama of suffering, frustration and biterness ... one of the most compelling and convincing love stories I have read ... a novel of which Zola might have been proud." (The Sunday Times)

More about this book on a separate page


Blood Relations
London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1978;
New York, Simon and Schuster, 1978;
London, Souvenir Press, 1993
The sequel to Across the Bitter Sea, Blood Relations chronicles the painful birth of twentieth-century Ireland.

"Eilís Dillon has recaptured all the essence of the time when a nation [was] struggling back into the light... It is a very wide canvas and all the major figures of the day are part of the story's background - De Valera, Michael Collins, Pearse and Connolly, but Eilís Dillon has again shown her complete mastery of the art of telling a story and infusing it with the breath of life." (Cork Examiner)

Read more reviews


Wild Geese
New York, Simon and Schuster, 1980;
London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1981
Set in Ireland, France and America, Wild Geese traces a singular thread of eighteenth-century history.

"A tale which spans two continents in turmoil, it's the sort of historical novel by which others are judged" (Evening News, Bolton)
"Their adventures cover two continents in revolutionary upheaval but EilĖs Dillon is always in full control of this tremendous scope and writes with clarity and irony." (Eastern Daily Press, Norwich)
"Eilís Dillon manages to convey all the excitement and danger of a turbulent period in French and American history producing an absorbing historical saga." (Annabel)


Citizen Burke
London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1984
Citizen Burke is the story of a remarkable Irish Catholic priest in post-Revolutionary France.

"First class historical novel" (Catholic Herald)

Read more reviews


The Interloper
London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1987
With The Interloper, Eilís Dillon returned to the theme of Irish history in the twentieth century. Exploring themes of memory and personal redemption, the story moves between the Irish Civil War and the present day.

"The period and the passion are evoked effortlessly ... similar in manner if not in subject to the historical novels of Daphne du Maurier" (Books)

More about this book on a separate page

Reviews

The Head of the Family
"Full, rich, comic, tragic, subtle and mature." (The Age, Melbourne)
"Miss Dillon sets her scene admirably ... an amusing and intelligently written novel." (Times Literary Supplement)
"'The Head of the Family' is a book that should add considerably to Eilís Dillon's growing reputation as a novelist." (The Irish Press)
"The picture is entirely convincing ... there is no attempt to describe Dublin but one is completely transported there." (Edith Shackleton, The Lady)
"Miss Dillon should be acclaimed as an artist of a very high order." (Vernon Fane, Sphere)
"This bitter-sweet tale about a patriarchal Irish novelist has an unquestionable power behind its delicacy of construction ... derives great strength from Eilís Dillon's perception and sympathy." (The Irish Times)
"It is a marvellous study in psychology and should be required reading for every lecturer in English Lit. If your humour tends to be ironic, you will enjoy it." (Liberty)
Back to list


Blood Relations
"A masterly treatment of a vast Irish panorama" (Irish Independent)
"It's an impressive novel, shrewd as well as passionate, good with evil and loneliness, with detail in close-up ... or with panoramic views of large events... Eilís Dillon seems to me to deal strongly and fairly and passionately with the difficult, often sneeringly described concept of ancestral memory..." (Isobel Quigly, Financial Times)
"Dillon's superb novel ...The heroine is young Molly but the story encompasses a large cast who involve us wholly whether they are victims, villains or both." (Publishers Weekly)
"This powerful, stirring story..." (Liverpool Daily Post)
Back to list


Citizen Burke
"Deft in its handling of the historical events and told in an engaging style which neatly blends compassion with comedy (Times Literary Supplement)
"Historical novels aren't usually my bag but this one has an arresting quality... Ms Dillon's almost claivoyante ability to read into the mind of one James Burke, a priest who left the Church for nationalistic (and naturalistic) reasons in the years surrounding the 1798 business in Ireland." (Books Ireland)
"She has created a character of considerable subtlety and interest." (Kevin Casey, Sunday Tribune)
"Subtle and sensitive ... throughout the book one is grateful for language that leaps and sparkles with the wit of its characters, and for a sense of irony that is keen but also kind." (Image)
Back to list

Back to the top of this page
Back to Eilís Dillon Life & works

Exit to the Eilís Dillon Irish Writing Pages

Page maintained by Eilís Dillon Literary Estate.
All material in these pages is copyright, and may not be reproduced for commercial purposes without written permission.