Nice to see The Bookseller announcing my book deal for NORA, but here’s a headline fix: ‘Ode to Nora Barnacle Joyce: New Island nabs O’Connor’s latest’. Better! Here’s the piece in full:
Ode to Joyce: New Island nabs O’Connor’s latest
Published October 14, 2020 by Tom Tivnan
New Island has snapped up author and poet Nuala O’Connor’s fifth novel, a “tour de force” that reimagines the life of “Ireland’s greatest muse”, Nora Joyce.
Commissioning editor Aoife K Walsh bought Irish rights for Nora: A Love Story of Nora Barnacle and James Joyce from Gráinne Fox at Fletcher & Company. Fox has also sold North American rights to Sarah Stein at Harper Books while German rights have gone to Suhrkamp.
The book begins when Nora Barnacle, a 20-year-old from Galway working as a maid at Finn’s Hotel, meets young James Joyce on a summer’s day in Dublin and is instantly attracted to him, but “she cannot yet imagine the extraordinary life they will share together”.
In real life, Joyce and Barnacle met in 1904 and their first date, on 16th June 1904, is the setting of his novel Ulysses, now known as Bloomsday. Barnacle and Joyce eloped later that year, moving to Trieste—though the two did not legally marry until 1931—and would spend most of the rest of their lives in continental Europe.
Galway-based O’Connor’s most recent novel was 2018’s Becoming Belle, based on the real-life Victorian era rags-to-riches story of the “peasant countess”, the Countess of Clancarty. She said her book was “an homage to Nora Barnacle as individual, woman, caretaker and mother, firstly, and, secondly, to Joyce as life-partner, father and genius writer. I try to look with empathy at this extraordinary couple who age and grow together, while negotiating the ordinary travails of life that so many of us deal with”.
New Island will publish in April 2021, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of Nora Joyce’s death, and ahead of the centenary of Ulysses‘ original release. Walsh said: “Amid the excitement and mayhem of the Joyce household as they barrel around 20th-century Europe, Nora is at its heart a loving portrait of a strong, kind, loyal and passionate Irishwoman, in whose head and heart we are sure readers will have a smashing good time.”
O’Connor (Becoming Belle) expands on her Granta award-winning short story, “Gooseen” in this poignant, comprehensive portrait of Nora Barnacle as a young woman, mother, and literary inspiration for the Molly Bloom character in Ulysses. Nora and James Joyce’s inseparable attachment begins in Dublin on June 16, 1904 (forever remembered as Bloomsday for the setting of Joyce’s masterpiece) and stretches to 1951. Narrated in Nora’s robust voice and carried by details saturated in filth, such as a walk along the Liffey river that “smells like a pisspot spilling its muck into the sea,” the narrative traces Nora and Joyce’s nomadic life from Ireland to Trieste, Zurich, London, Rome, and Paris, and details their constant money worries, health concerns, struggles with two difficult children, and emotional despair. Despite their personal and professional achievements, and a circle of friends that includes Sylvia Beach, the Guggenheim sisters, Samuel Beckett, Ezra Pound, and other literati, the couple suffers loneliness and “mutual melancholy.” An inscription on a bracelet that Joyce gives Nora underscores their commitment to one another: “love is unhappy when love is away.” O’Connor’s admirable accomplishment adds to the abundant Joyceana with a moving examination of an unforgettable family. (Jan.)
NORA A love story of Nora Barnacle and James Joyce
Jim styles me his sleepy-eyed Nora. His squirrel girl from the pages of Ibsen. I am pirate queen and cattle raider. I’m his blessed little blackguard. I am, he says, his auburn marauder. I’m his honourable barnacle goose…. ‘Nora,’ Jim says, ‘you are story.’
New Island Books is delighted to announce the acquisition of the Irish rights to Nuala O’Connor’s exceptional new novel NORA.
When Nora Barnacle, a twenty-year-old from Galway working as a maid at Finn’s Hotel, meets young James Joyce on a summer’s day in Dublin, she is instantly attracted to him, natural and daring in his company. But she cannot yet imagine the extraordinary life they will share together. All Nora knows is she likes her Jim enough to leave behind family and home, in search of a bigger, more exciting life. As their family grows, they ricochet from European city to city, making fast friends amongst the greatest artists and writers of their age as well as their wives, and are brought high and low by Jim’s ferocious ambition. But time and time again, Nora is torn between their intense and unwavering desire for each other and the constant anxiety of living hand-to-mouth, often made worse by Jim’s compulsion for company and attention. So, while Jim writes and drinks his way to literary acclaim, Nora provides unflinching support and inspiration, sometimes at the expense of her own happiness, and especially at that of their children, Giorgio and Lucia. Eventually, together, they achieve some longed-for security and stability, but it is hard-won and imperfect to the end. In sensuous, resonant prose, Nuala O’Connor has conjured the definitive portrait of this strong, passionate and loyal Irishwoman. Nora is a tour de force, an earthy and authentic love letter to Irish literature’s greatest muse.
‘A lively and loving paean to the indomitable Nora Barnacle.’ —Edna O’Brien
‘An exceptional novel by one of the most brilliant contemporary Irish writers, this is a story of love in all its many seasons, from ardent sexuality to companionable tenderness, through strength, challenge, and courage. Nuala O’Connor has brought to vivid life a woman about whom every literature lover has surely wondered and has done so with immense skill and daring.’ —Joseph O’Connor
Author Nuala O’Connor says: ‘NORA, for me, is an homage to Nora Barnacle as individual, woman, caretaker and mother, firstly, and, secondly, to Joyce as life-partner, father and genius writer. I try to look with empathy at this extraordinary couple who age and grow together, while negotiating the ordinary travails of life that so many of us deal with. Those people may be the great James Joyce and the inimitable Nora Barnacle but, in 1904, they were just two young people, setting out together to who knew what, who knew where. NORA, I hope, opens out the intimate, intriguing detail of the strange and lovely journey they took side by side.’
Aoife K. Walsh, commissioning editor at New Island says: ‘New Island Books is supremely happy to be publishing NORA by Nuala O’Connor in Ireland next year, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of Nora Barnacle’s death. Nuala is an exceptional writer of precision and empathy, who holds the hand of her dear Gooseen as well as he enthralled reader throughout this big-hearted novel. Amidst the excitement and mayhem of the Joyce household as they barrel around 20th-century Europe, NORA is at its heart a loving portrait of a strong, kind, loyal and passionate Irishwoman, in whose head and heart we are sure readers will have a smashing good time.’
The deal with New Island was concluded by Gráinne Fox of Fletcher and Company, who also sold North American rights to Sarah Stein at HarperCollins for publication in January 2021 and German rights to Suhrkamp, Insel imprint.
For further information contact: Caoimhe Fox firstname.lastname@example.org / +353 1 278 4225 Ext 004.
Publicity enquiries contact: Peter O’Connell email@example.com
New Island Books is gratefully supported by the Arts Council of Ireland
NUALA O’CONNOR is a novelist, short story writer and poet, and lives in Co. Galway with her family. She is the author of four previous novels, including Becoming Belle (2018) and Miss Emily (2015), a reimagining of the life of Emily Dickinson, and six short story collections, her most recent being Joyride to Jupiter (2017). She has won many prizes for her short fiction including the Francis MacManus Award, the James Joyce Quarterly Fiction Contest and the UK’s Short Fiction Journal Prize. Nuala’s work has also been nominated for numerous prizes including the Edge Hill Short Story Prize, the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award, the Irish Book Awards Novel of the Year and the International Dublin Literary Award. She is editor-in-chief at flash e-zine Splonk
I was awarded a COVID-19 Crisis Response Award for Literature, from the Arts Council of Ireland, to write and compile birdie, a collection of 16 historical and out-of-time flash and micro fictions.
You can buy a digital copy of birdiehere at Draft2Digital or a kindle edition here. It costs €5.99 / US$5.99 / £4.99.
Arlen House has produced a limited, hard-copy edition of birdie which can be bought from Kennys, Galway (Kennys now has signed copies!); Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop Galway; Hodges Figgis; The Reading Room in Leitrim; Forever Amber in Meath; Waterstones Cork; Dubrays; and O’Mahonys. Your local shop will order.
Love is the central force in birdie, a collection of sixteen historical and out-of-time flash fictions that sing with the voices of women loving and losing and learning. The characters here find strength, despite the sorrows of death and deceit: a ghost-child returns to Massachusetts to comfort her grieving mother; the daughter of a Spanish orange tycoon regrets her mother’s terrible choices; an English maid longs for, but can’t be with, her mistress’s son.
Birdie contains O’Connor’s signature ekphrastic work, drawing on artists as diverse as Matisse, da Vinci, and American painter Edwin Romanzo Elmer. The natural world looms large too: sheep and foxes roam these pages, while seawater washes through them.
Described by the Toronto Star as a writer of ‘magical imagination’ and by the Washington Post as ‘soaring’, O’Connor’s collection of historical flash will delight her readers, old and new.