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.)
Here are my picks for the 2020 #READIRISHWOMENCHALLENGE, organised by bookseller The Bookaneer808. It was a pleasure to take part throughout April, and a real daily diversion from Covid-19 concerns:
Day 1 #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020, Book That Made You LOL: *Malarky* by @AnakanaSchofiel: This novel deals with a grieving woman who unhinges before the reader’s eyes; lots of jealousy, grief, sex-as-weapon, & mental health issues. Filled with black Irish humour. Highly rec!
Day 2 #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020,
Book abt friendship: *The House in Paris* – #ElizabethBowen: Set across one
day, the novel looks at the friendship b’ween a girl and boy, and the complex
family lives that brought them to the house. Elegant writing, as always, from
Day 3 #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 –
New release: *A Quiet Tide* by @ThisMarianneLee: A gorgeous début historical
novel about Irish botanist Ellen Hutchins and her determination to pursue her
passion and be herself. From @NewIslandBooks.
Day 4 #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 –
Set not where you live: *The Light Makers* by @maryodonnell03 – a Dublin-set novel
about the fragility of our humanity, it explores the hope & disappointments
of Hannah as she negotiates the tricky waters of love, longed-for motherhood,
Day 5 #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 –
Book from 70s: *A Pagan Place* by #EdnaOBrien – my fave Edna novel, a 2nd
person POV narrated by a sensitive,
spiky, observant girl searching for her identity. Melancholic & beautiful.
Day 6 #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 –
Book by diaspora: *Frog Music* by @EDonoghueWriter – inventive, exciting, funny
and dark, this is a literary thriller set in the world of 1870s American
burlesque. Donoghue is one of our best writers, always a thrill to read.
Day 7 #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – Book about
social change: *Dorothy Macardle* by @lloislanel a readable, deeply
informative bio, as perfect for general readers as those interested in the
forming of the State, Republican politics, early Irish feminism. Highly rec!
Day 8 #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – Book with a
death: *Twelve Thousand Days* by #ÉilísNíDhuibhne: a
story of inter-generational marriage, shared intellect & love of folklore,
and the failings of our health system. Moving, gorgeously written and
Day 9 #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – Book that
challenged the way you see the world: *The Portable Virgin* by #AnneEnright. I
came to this book as a fledgling fiction writer in the 90s and it showed me
what the modern Irish short story could look like: bold, brave and beautiful.
Day 10 #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – a play: *By
the Bog of Cats* – #MarinaCarr. I saw #HollyHunter play Hester in Carr’s
Midlands Medea @WyndhamTheatre . Her eerie cry of ‘Carthage’ stays with me. A
dark, haunting play.
Day 11 #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – book to read
aloud: *Room little Darker – short stories* – @junecaldwell. Buoyant, brilliant
Dublin prose and mad happenings galore from this ever-funny and clever writer.
Day 12 #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – book with
food/drink: *Ireland’s Green Larder* by @mmhhickey a precise history of
Irish food, wise, fresh and comprehensive. Every Irish home should have a copy.
Day 13 #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – book to give
your younger self: *Bullyproof Kids* by @stellaomalley3. Offers not just tools
to make kids more resilient against the threat of bullies, but ways for adults
to understand bullying, whether it takes place in the playground or the
Day 14 #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – book with a
journey: *Elsewhere* by @RositaBoland. Not one but many journeys here, to
places and to the self. A wonderful book by a courageous, intelligent, engaging
Irish travel writer.
Day 15 #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – book with
plant life on the cover: *The Unforeseen* by #DorothyMacardle. Warm, open &
deep, this late 30s-set novel is about genteel Virgilia, who lives in rural
Wicklow, & her daughter Nan, & the unasked-for, terrible visions
Day 16 #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – protagonist
who inspires strong emotions: *The Longbourn Letters* by @roseservitova. A
wonderful, witty imagining of the friendship through letters between pompous Mr
Collins and Mr Bennett. Gives #JaneAusten fans a new look at P&P and Mr C.
Day 17 #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – TBR pile: One of these is TBR, the rest are TBF (to be finished) or TBRR (to be re-read). Riches!
Day 18 #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – teenage
protagonist: *Foster* by #ClaireKeegan. A small masterpiece, the girl’s
out-of-placeness, and the goodness of her relatives, are exquisitely done –
nice to remind myself of its riches every so often.
Day 19 #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – illustrated
book: *Parrot Park* by #marymurphy & #jessicaahlberg. Sweet series of
stories set near my hometown in Dublin West, I loved reading them to my
youngest kids. Ordinary family fun galore: headlice, camping etc.
Day 20 #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – a comfort
read – *The Watch House* by @berniemcgill. I love beautiful prose & this
novel, set on Rathlin Island, is delicately written, the story soars & the
sense of place is palpable. A beautiful, transporting story. Deffo one to
Day 21 #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – book by an iconic
author – *Naming the Stars* by #JenniferJohnston. A classic Johnston novel,
exploring how a family narrative is woven around secrets and lies. An intimate,
moving story of loss, memory and the human need for truth-telling.
Day 22 – #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – a book of poetry – no way can I pick just one, so here’s a stack, including @sarahmaintains @Writergermills & more.
Day 23 – #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – book
featuring a real Irish woman – ‘The Rising of Bella Casey’ by #MaryMorrissy, a beautifully
written, moving novel about Bella Casey, sister of dramatist Seán O’Casey,
looking at her fall from grace & women’s lack of choice in early 20th
Day 24 – #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – Literary mag strongly featuring Irish women – @bansheelit is run by three great women/writers: @eimear_ryan #lauracassidy & @chennessybooks. It’s a trove of great fiction, interviews, poetry & essays since 2015. Also pubbing books now!
Day 25 – #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – book in
another time – ‘Fallen’ – @libranwriter A WW1/1916 novel, this is a beautifully
written narrative about grief, sister-love, loyalty, & the uneven nature of
family. I loved seeing the Rising from the POV of a young woman.
Day 26 – #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 –
sci-fi/fantasy book – ‘A Brilliant Void’- from @TrampPress. This anthology
features 8 Irish women writers, including the brilliant spec writer @griffski
& is a TBR for me, to fill gaps in my reading in this genre. Looking
forward to it!
Day 27 – #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – signed
book – *Are You Somebody?* #NualaOFaolain. Great memoir of love, loneliness
& writing, I bought it for my Ma in Kennys– also Nuala – O’Faolain signed
it ‘To Nuala from Nuala via your Nuala’. One of my fave, warmest author
Day 28 – #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – LGBTQ+
book – *Stir-Fry*, @EDonoghueWriter. I loved this fresh novel when it came out
in ’94. Emma writes often about gay relationships & this story of lust
& friendship sees Maria examine her sexuality when she moves in with a gay
Day 29 – #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – a long
book – *HellFire* by #MiaGallagher – concise, despite its 658 pages,
this raw and rich novel features Lucy, a thief, tomboy, drug-user, fighter and
‘errant girl’. A real tour de force of a novel, moving and gripping.
Day 30 – #ReadIrishWomenChallenge2020 – next read
inspired by this challenge – I plan to read *The Land of Spices* by
#KateOBrien, plus more of hers. *The Ante-Room* steered me wrong on her, I
think, I didn’t enjoy it much. (Tnx @jabberwocky888 for this month’s challenge.