Novels

Bio-fiction event with Jillian Cantor

Please join the wonderful Jillian Cantor and me at our virtual event on the 26th March from Poisoned Pen bookstore, Arizona, to discuss her novel on Marie Curie and mine on Nora Barnacle.

1pm MST / 9pm GMT

Sign up here: Jillian and Nuala bio-fiction event

NORA REVIEW – TORONTO STAR

I love this review of NORA, from Janet Somerville in the Toronto Star. Big thanks to Janet, writer and literature teacher, who has written a book about the wonderful Martha Gellhorn.

Vermont NORA event

My friend, writer and librarian Peter Money, will interview me about NORA on the 12th March (5pm Irish time, midday USA) in association with the Norwich Bookstore, Vermont. More here.

Send an email to virtual2 AT norwichbookstore.com to get the link to join the event, which will be sent as soon as it is available.

Historical Novels Review – NORA

The Historical Novels Review has reviewed NORA today and it’s a goody. It’s here, but I’ve also pasted the text in below. Big thanks to Trish Macenulty.

Nora: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce

WRITTEN BY NUALA O’CONNOR
REVIEW BY TRISH MACENULTY

In light of Brenda Maddox’s brilliant and exhaustive biography of Nora Barnacle—wife and muse of the writer James Joyce—and the 2000 film, Nora, about the couple’s relationship, a novel of Nora’s life might seem redundant or unnecessary. It isn’t. In fact, Nora by Nuala O’Connor is marvelous. Of course, by delving into Nora’s life, O’Connor must also write about one of the great geniuses of the English language. This would be dangerous territory for a lesser writer, but O’Connor has the literary chops to get the job done. Her lyrical style and Irish colloquialisms capture the essence of their feelings for each other as well for their home country. In Nora’s voice, she tells us, “Jim says I am harp and shamrock, tribe and queen. I am high cross and crowned heart, held between two hands.”

The novel begins on Bloomsday (June 16) in 1904 with an early sexual encounter between the ever-lusty couple. From there we follow the peripatetic wanderings of the pair as they travel from Dublin to Trieste to Zurich to Paris and back to Zurich. Along the way they have children, live (and fight) with Joyce’s siblings, and make friends and enemies across the continent, surviving hand-to-mouth one day and high-on-the-hog the next. They endure wars, illnesses, and madness. None of it is easy. Joyce drinks too much. He flirts with other women. He falsely accuses Nora of betrayal. But throughout all their travails, a powerful bond persists, as does Joyce’s passion for his art. O’Connor shows us just how integral Nora was to Joyce’s writing and to his success, and one comes away from this book with the sense that without Nora Barnacle, there would be no James Joyce.

Midwest Book Review – NORA

A lovely review today for NORA from the Midwest Book Review in the USA:

‘An historical novel but one that pays scrupulous attention to biographically accurate detail, Nora: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce by author Nuala O’Connor deftly blends elements of love, ambition, and extraordinary people with extraordinary talents with the kind of narrative storytelling style that creates great and enduringly memorable fiction.’

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY FEATURE – NORA

Thanks to Publishers Weekly for having #NoraNovel in their ’10 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know…’ feature. You can read it here and I have also pasted the text in below.

10 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About James and Nora Joyce

By Nuala O’Connor | Jan 19, 2021

Nuala O’Connor’s new novel, Nora: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyceis a poignant, comprehensive portrait of James Joyce’s wife, Nora Barnacle, as a young woman, mother, and literary inspiration for the Molly Bloom character in Ulysses. Narrating the story in Nora’s robust voice, O’Connor traces the couple’s nomadic life from Ireland to Trieste, Paris, and Zürich, adding to the abundant Joyceana with a moving portrait of an unforgettable family. Here she explains ten little-known facts about the Joyces.

Dubliner James Joyce gained international fame with the publication of his novel Ulysses in 1922. Joyce enjoyed a lifelong partnership with Nora Barnacle—an earthy, pragmatic Galway woman with little interest in literature. The pair met in Dublin, where Nora worked in Finn’s Hotel, and first went out together on the June 16, 1904, later immortalized as Bloomsday, the day the events in Ulysses take place. Joyce and Nora left Ireland for Europe in October 1904 and settled in Trieste, then an Austro-Hungarian port town. They had two children—Giorgio and Lucia—and lived in various cities, including Paris. Both died in Zürich, Switzerland.

1. Joyce and Nora were not married when they eloped in 1904 and didn’t marry until 1931. Though bohemian in some attitudes, the Joyces lived a fairly conventional life. They pretended to be married but, after 27 years, made their union legal to ensure their children’s inheritances. The pair hoped to marry quietly in a London register office, but were found out by the paparazzi. Their annoyance is palpable in the photographs–Joyce looks grim and Nora tries to hide her face with her cloche hat.

2. Nora and Joyce moved relentlessly throughout their lives: sometimes evicted, sometimes living in borrowed accommodation, sometimes having to flee to keep safe. They stayed in Zürich during WWI and returned there at the start of WWII. In Paris alone, they lived at 19 different addresses. This peripatetic existence may have been a hangover from Joyce’s youth—his large family often moved clandestinely at night when his profligate father left their rent unpaid.

3. James Joyce was an English teacher. He taught at the Berlitz schools in Trieste and the Italian province of Pola, but found the work tiresome, and often spoke to his students about the faults of Ireland and the joys of drinking, rather than verbs and vocabulary. He gave up teaching when several benefactresses—Edith Rockefeller McCormick, Sylvia Beach, and Harriet Weaver—eased his financial strains.

4. In the great Irish emigrant tradition, Joyce and Nora “brought over” three of Joyce’s siblings to Trieste. His favorite brother, Stannie, worked alongside Joyce in the Berlitz School. Joyce’s motives were not benign—poverty-struck, the household needed another earner. Stannie was often bitter about propping up his genius brother and family. “He used me as a butcher uses his steel,” Stannie wrote. Still, he named his only son James and, in another twist, Stannie died on Bloomsday 1955.

5. James Joyce opened Ireland’s first dedicated cinema. The Volta Electric Theatre opened on Dublin’s Mary Street in September 1909. Joyce set up the cinema with backing from business people he befriended in Trieste, but Dubliners didn’t much like the program of Italian and French films, and the venture failed.

6. Nora and Joyce exchanged steamy, erotic letters when Joyce was in Ireland setting up his cinema and Nora was home in Trieste. Joyce’s letters, which can be read online, are frank, explicit, and obscene, but they also spill over into intimate, tender, poetic trances. Naturally we should not be privy to these wild imaginings, but it’s hard not to read them when they are there.

7. James Joyce was from a musical family and once contemplated a career as a singer. He had a sweet tenor voice and loved music. Nora was enchanted when she heard Joyce sing in Dublin’s Antient Concert Rooms, early in their courtship. The previous year, Joyce won a bronze medal at a national singing contest, only failing to win gold as he couldn’t sight-read. He gifted his medal to his Aunt Josephine; it was later bought at auction by dancer Michael Flatley.

8. The Joyce children were creatively talented. Lucia was a dancer and performed in Paris, and Giorgio, like his father, had a fine singing voice. Sadly, Lucia’s mental illness prevented her developing a career in dance, and Giorgio was, apparently, too nervous to take to the stage very often.

9. The Irish government refused to repatriate James’s body when died in Switzerland in 1941. He was buried in Fluntern Cemetery in Zürich, beside the zoo. Nora, who died ten years later in April 1951, was not initially buried in the same grave as her beloved Jim, but in 1966, her remains were exhumed and reburied with Joyce.

10. Nora and James’s last direct descendant died in January 2020. Stephen Joyce was the great defender of his family’s reputation and his grandfather’s writing. He said of Nora, “Nonna was so strong, she was a rock. I would venture to say that [Joyce] could have done none of it, not written one of the books, without her.”

NORA review – Free Lance Star, VA

Drew Gallagher has reviewed NORA for the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Big thanks to him. I pasted the whole text below as GDPR blocks the link to those of us in Europe.

Book review: ‘Nora’ a serene, worthy addition to Joyce canon By DREW GALLAGHER FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR Jan 9, 2021

What author Nuala O’Connor attempts in her novel “Nora” may be considered sacrilege by some. What she achieves is serene.

“Nora” is a literary biography of Nora Barnacle Joyce, the lover and wife of Irish author James Joyce and the inspiration for Molly Bloom in Joyce’s masterpiece “Ulysses.” Where the sacrilege might come in is in O’Connor’s first chapter, where she describes the first date of Nora and James in graphic and satisfying detail. To attempt to re-create the date that birthed its own holiday, Bloomsday, and was the impetus for what many consider to be the greatest novel of all time with the most salacious soliloquy of all-time is a fool’s errand, and for those who worship at the Joycean altar a form of heresy. And at the risk of upsetting the Joyceans further, I defy them to read the first chapter of “Nora” and not be enraptured and more than a little titillated.

O’Connor’s mastery is not limited to the first chapter, and she is able to tug emotion from the novel’s closing chapters where, in truth, there should be none. As with all literary biographies, we already know how the story ends, and it is unrealistic to want a biographical novel on the life of James Joyce to not end with his death, but when his sudden demise arrives, it is gut-wrenching through Nora’s loving eyes and leaves the reader staggered.

Nora and James are one of the great couples in literature, and this is underscored when Hemingway makes an appearance in Paris and quickly discards a wife for a new beau. The Joyces are not without trials and temptations, because before he was James Joyce, he was nothing more than a gifted writer trying to earn enough money from teaching to allow him to write on the side. Nora is jealous of James’ fondness for some of his students, but it is the statuesque Nora whose suitors, including James’ brother Stannie, are more direct in their intentions.

Following James’ peripatetic life through Europe and in search of money and drink can get tedious, but O’Connor elevates the reader above the mundane, which was the normal for the Joyces until the publication of “A Portrait of a Writer As a Young Man.” Ultimately, “Ulysses” freed them from having to stiff landlords for rent and opened them to Parisian society without concerns for food or dress. For the prodigal son of Ireland, Joyce spent most of his life elsewhere.

As with any work on Joyce, the ultimate question is whether or not “Nora” is a worthy addition to the Joyce canon. As Molly Bloom, the flower of the mountain, would say, “Yes.”

YouTube link for NORA online biofiction event

On 5th January 2021, to celebrate the USA launch day of NORA, I, along with fellow Irish author Eibhear Walshe – who wrote the wonderful The Last Days at Bowen’s Court about Elizabeth Bowen – did an online bio-fiction event with Columbia University, facilitated by scholar and author Heather Corbally Bryant.

The event is online now and you can view it on YouTube here.

All thanks to the gracious Emily Bloom of Columbia Uni for stellar organising.