Wall is raised in the coastal village of Whitegate, County Cork. He receives his secondary education at the Midleton CBS Secondary School in Midleton. He progresses to University College Cork where he graduates in Philosophy and English. He teaches English and drama at Presentation Brothers College, Cork, where he inspires Cillian Murphy to enter acting.
In 1997, Wall wins the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award. He publishes his first collection of poetry that same year. His first novel, Alice Falling, a dark study of power and abuse in modern-day Ireland, appears in 2000. He is the author of four novels, two collections of poetry and one of short stories.
In 2005, This Is The Country appears. A broad attack on politics in “Celtic Tiger” Ireland, as well as a rite of passage novel, it is longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards. It can be read as a satirical allegory on corruption, the link between capitalism and liberal democracy exemplified in the ‘entrepreneurial’ activities of minor drug dealers and gangsters, and reflected in the architecture of business-parks and sink estates. This political writing takes the form of “an insightful and robust social conscience”, in the words of academic John Kenny. Kenny also focuses on what he sees as Wall’s “baneful take on the Irish family, his fundamentally anti-idyllic mood” which has “not entirely endeared Wall to the more misty-eyed among his readers at home or abroad.” The political is also in evidence in his second collection of poetry Fahrenheit Says Nothing To Me. He is not a member of Aosdána, the Irish organisation for writers and artists. In 2006, his first collection of short fiction, No Paradiso, appears. In 2017, he becomes the first European to win the Drue Heinz Literature Prize.
His provocative political blog, The Ice Moon, has increasingly featured harsh criticism of the Irish government over their handling of the economy, as well as reviews of mainly left-wing books and movies. Many of his posts are satirical. He occasionally writes for literary journals, writes for Irish Left Review, and reviews for The Irish Times. His work has been translated into several languages. He has also appeared on the Irish-language channel TG4, such as in the programme Cogar.
He is one of the Irish delegates at the European Writers Conference in Istanbul in 2010.
Described by writer Kate Atkinson as “lyrical and cruel and bold and with metaphors to die for,” critics have focused on Wall’s mastery of language, his gift for “linguistic compression,” his “poet’s gift for apposite, wry observation, dialogue and character,” his “unflinching frankness” and his “laser-like … dissection of human frailties,” which is counterbalanced by “the depth of feeling that Wall invests in his work.” A review of his first novel in The New Yorker declares “Wall, who is also a poet, writes prose so charged—at once lyrical and syncopated—that it’s as if Cavafy had decided to write about a violent Irish household.” In a recent review, his long poem “Job in Heathrow,” anthologised in The Forward Book of Poetry 2010 but originally published in The SHOp, is described as “a chilling airport dystopia.” Poet Fred Johnston suggests that Wall’s poetry sets out to “list the shelves of disillusion under which a thinking man can be buried.” For Philip Coleman, “Ghost Estate is a deeply political book, but it also articulates a profound interest in and engagement with questions of aesthetics and poetics.”
Wall is a longtime sufferer of adult-onset Still’s disease (AOSD) and describes his efforts to circumvent the disabling effects of the disease using speech-to-text applications as “a battle between me and the software.”