NORA publishes here in Ireland on the 10th April with New Island Books and I have some events/readings coming up to celebrate the book. We have two launch events planned, one each for Dublin and Galway. More below:
26th March, 8pm GMT: American writer Jillian Cantor and I will be discussing bio-fiction, to celebrate the publication of her novel Half Life about Marie Curie. In association with Poisoned Pen Bookstore, Arizona. More here.
9th April, 7pm: Launch online in Dublin on 9th April in association with MOLI. Interview with Katherine McSharyy of the National Library of Ireland. Register here.
11th April – essay about Nora Barnacle on Sunday Miscellany. 9am to 10am on RTÉ Radio 1.
My first New York Times review today and it’s for my beloved NORA. Big thanks to Alida Becker. I’ve pasted the entire thing in below; a swift flavour though: ‘…Nora is entirely convincing in her raw sensuality, her stubborn determination, her powerful sense of grievance.’ Very pleased 🙂
NEW YORK TIMES – 16th March 2021
Three Historical Novels Explore the Strength of Human Connection – Alida Becker
“Messy” doesn’t begin to describe the domestic life of the narrator of Nuala O’Connor’s NORA (Harper Perennial, 458 pp., paper, $16.99), the minimally educated, relentlessly blue-collar woman who propped up one of literature’s most challenging highbrow writers, James Joyce. There are times when you wonder whether the real Nora Barnacle would have been quite so articulate (“he’s also a bother to my heart and a conundrum to my mind”), but this fictional Nora is entirely convincing in her raw sensuality, her stubborn determination, her powerful sense of grievance and her inability to stop loving a deeply erratic, wildly manipulative yet enormously talented man.
You won’t find much about Joyce’s works in Nora’s account of his torturous climb from poverty-stricken anonymity to professional acclaim. (“Portrait of the Artist” comes off as “strings of baby babble” to someone who prefers “penny dreadfuls and romances.”) You will, however, be given an intimate look at the struggle that made Joyce’s work possible as Nora describes how she followed along when he fled Ireland for dead-end jobs in Switzerland and Italy, watched him waste his paychecks on carousing while she took in washing for grocery money, and let herself become far too reliant on his long-suffering brother after the Joyce entourage grew to include a son and a daughter.
Set against all this, Nora’s small triumphs loom large. In Paris in 1925, two decades after she first “walked out” with Joyce, the now-middle-aged Nora proudly announces that “at last I have a home to call my own and furniture besides.” Her money worries may be gone, but now there are worries about her children, particularly Lucia, with that “skittery-skattery look” in her eyes, who will eventually be diagnosed as schizophrenic and confined to a mental hospital. Even Nora’s uterine cancer (“the doctor now says the whole lot has to come out”) and Joyce’s glaucoma (“the eyes are murder; 10 operations later and it’s worse they get”) can’t distract her from a terrible sense of guilt: “How can I tell him that between us we may have made our daughter mad?”
Alida Becker is a former editor at the Book Review.
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.
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.
The Sunday Independent has included NORA in its Top Reads for 2021, which is rather lovely.
Despite the subheading above – about ‘taking advantage of lockdown’ – it’s doubtful any of the books on this list were written last year.
I finished writing NORA in early 2019, having started it in 2017, and since then it’s been through the editorial process with my agent; then with my editor, a sub editor, and a copy editor at Harper Collins in New York; then came the cover, blurbs, and jacket design choices; and the novel had another good old edit with New Island in Dublin after that. It also had a name-change along the way – I had originally called it Barnacle. It takes a long time to make a book, not the matter of a few months cited above.
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.)