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.
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.’
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 Joyce, is 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.”
The Irish Times includes Nora in its 2021 round-up today. The novel is in great company: new books soon from Danielle McLaughlin, Lisa McInerney, Laura McKenna and Úna Mannion, to name just a tiny few.
The Times says: ‘Nora (New Island, April) by Nuala O’Connor tells the love story of Nora Barnacle and James Joyce, an earthy and authentic love letter to Irish literature’s greatest muse. ‘
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.
This was a welcome surprise Christmas present from Vogue USA today!:
The Best Books to Read in 2021 – 25th Dec. 2020 – Vogue USA
In her fiction, Nuala O’Connor has often explored the private lives of historical figures; she did it in 2015’s Miss Emily, about Emily Dickinson, and in 2018’s Becoming Belle, about singer and dancer Belle Bilton. She takes the same approach in Nora, a long but lively portrait of James Joyce’s wife and muse, Nora Barnacle Joyce. His companion for 37 years (and the mother of both his children), Nora has long sat at the center of Joycian lore; she was the model for Ulysses’s Molly Bloom and, in her youthful trysts, inspired two characters in “The Dead.” With Nora, O’Connor leans into that context—as she does into Joyce’s famously filthy letters to his “wildflower of the hedges”—depicting a relationship as lousy with passion as it was with chaos. Joyce’s drinking and uselessness with money form a throughline, as do their constant moves between Italy, France, and Switzerland. (A poet as well as a novelist, O’Connor has a musical ear for language; Joyce and Nora never seem to lose their lilt.) Yes, literati like Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Samuel Beckett, and Sylvia Beach make requisite appearances, but Nora is principally the story of a Galway girl and her “Jim,” eking out some semblance of an existence far from home. —Marley Marius
The Boston Globe has reviewed my novel NORA today and it’s a good one, calling it ‘an exhaustive and often wildly engaging’. You can read it here. I’ve also pasted the full review text below.
Historical fiction reimagines the love between Joyce and his lifelong companion
Nora Barnacle may not have been an artist, but she had a genius for living that made her indispensable to her partner, James Joyce. One of the greatest writers of the 20th century, Joyce honored Barnacle, his lifelong companion and mother of his two children, by setting his masterwork “Ulysses” on June 16, 1904, the day they first “walked out together.” But as Irish writer Nuala O’Connor tells it in an exhaustive and often wildly engaging fictionalized biography, the full story of the Galway gal who traipsed after James as he wrote, drank, and intermittently worked his way across Europe is a tale of its own.
In “Nora: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce,” O’Connor presents the young chambermaid as lusty and full of life when she meets the writer — who has returned to his hometown Dublin after a brief sojourn as a medical student in Paris — in the spring of 1904. O’Connor’s Barnacle narrates her impressions of that famous date — a.k.a. “Bloomsday” — with the kind of stream-of-consciousness impressions that would distinguish Joyce’s great works; her language is earthy and vivid. “The river smells like a pisspot spilling its muck into the sea,” she remarks, as the two stroll along the Liffey. Moments later, “our two mouths crash together and it’s all swollen tongues and drippy spit,” beginning the graphic sexual encounter that Joyce would later recall “made me a man,” related in a mix of slang and endearments that establishes Barnacle’s personality.
Her distinctive language is certainly evocative of her lover’s. But whether O’Connor is suggesting that Barnacle inspired Joyce, as some scholars argue, or the writer simply channeled a particular Irish sensibility, the author leaves to the reader. With a knowing wink, the author has Barnacle — who had little formal education — talking about her own discomfort with writing. “[W]ords don’t slide off my pen the way they do for him,” she says. Despite the Joycean phrasings, she seems to be saying that her role is to be his muse.Get HomeFront in your inboxThe Weekender is temporarily HomeFront, your guide to the best ways to stay entertained at home any day of the week.Sign Up
“To Jim, I am Ireland,” she says. More to the point, perhaps, her lover says, “‘you are syllable, word, sentence, phrase. You’re fat vowels and shushing sibilants.’ ‘Nora,’ Jim says, ‘you are story.’”
In some ways, the book’s opening scenes, drawn largely from O’Connor’s Granta magazine short story “Gooseen,” capture the relationship — the title is Joyce’s pet name for Barnacle — at its peak. “Gooseen,” which won the UK’s 2018 Short Fiction Prize, presents the new romance as all lust and promise, with the consequences yet to come. In the ensuing and frankly overlong novel, O’Connor explores those consequences, and her protagonist’s increasingly conflicted connection to the man she loves.
Things are not all downhill. But early on, there are intimations that life with Joyce will not be easy. He drinks and is plagued with the eye troubles — most likely glaucoma — that will leave him nearly blind. He is also unfaithful. And although O’Connor’s novel doesn’t pick up on the recent studies that suggest Joyce’s health problems stem from untreated syphilis, his infidelity as well as his rampant alcoholism and profligate spending make Barnacle miserable. While she seems to never doubt his calling, the family is often in financial straits, and she ends up taking in laundry to cover their bills. “I’m beginning to wonder if mine isn’t a blighted wifehood,” she laments.
Depicting her protagonist as fundamentally conventional at heart, O’Connor has Barnacle frequently lamenting their unmarried state. Joyce disdained the Catholic Church, but Barnacle, in this retelling, comes to regret their unsanctioned life together, worrying constantly about exposure as the two move around Europe and she bears first George and then the ill-fated Lucia. For all her confidence in Joyce’s genius, she also recoils from his open depiction of sexuality. She is embarrassed by “bawdy Molly” Bloom and is appalled by the notorious episode in which Leopold Bloom spies on young Gerty MacDowell. “Why Jim has to put such sleazy little scenes in his novel I don’t know.”
Even as Joyce’s literary star rises, the tensions remain, as publication only means more money for Joyce to squander or drink away. And as their children mature, their idiosyncrasies — notably George’s romance with an older woman and Lucia’s mental illness — add to Barnacle’s woes. O’Connor chronicles nearly every move as well as the numerous publishing setbacks and hospitalizations — first Joyce’s and then their daughter’s, for what would eventually be diagnosed as schizophrenia — through Barnacle’s reactions. While these struggles are believably depicted, they recur with a sameness that makes this lengthy work read even longer than it is. The book holds true to its namesake’s life, but the overall effect is numbing. This is a novel, after all, not a comprehensive biography.
Ultimately, it is also — as the subtitle says — a love story. For all her complaints, Barnacle and Joyce did seem to have a rare and lasting connection, and for all its flaws, O’Connor’s book makes this relationship palpable. In her depiction, Barnacle says it best: “Jim is Jim, and Nora is Nora, and we know that despite any upsets and troubles we’ve had, we’re as strong as steel together.”
NORA: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce
By Nuala O’Connor
Harper Perennial, 496 pp., $16.99
Three weeks from today, on the 5th January, my novel NORA, about Nora Barnacle, is published by Harper Collins in the USA. (It comes out in Ireland with New Island in April and Insel Verlag in Germany).
All pre-order details for NORA are here.
To celebrate the launch day, I and fellow Irish author Eibhear Walshe, who published the wonderful The Last Days at Bowen’s Court this year, are doing an online event with Columbia University, facilitated by author Heather Corbally Bryant.
Event date and time: 5th January 8pm GMT / 3pm EST.
You can register for this event here – we would love to have you aboard!
Read all about our event below!
This conversation brings together two novelists who thread the needle between fiction and biography. Nuala O’Connor’s Nora: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce (HarperCollins) and Eibhear Walshe’s The Last Day at Bowen’s Court (Somerville Press) are told from the point of view of two very different Irishwomen—Nora Barnacle and Elizabeth Bowen—and draw from biographical material but are not beholden to it. In this discussion moderated by Heather Bryant Jordan, the authors will consider the relationship between history and fiction, writing writer’s lives, and writing women’s lives.
Co-Sponsors: NYC Irish Studies Consortium, SOF/Heyman, NYU Glucksman Ireland House, The Wellesley College Writing Program, and Columbia University Seminar in Irish Studies.
Nora: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce
For a video of Nuala O’Connor reading from Nora, please see the following link: https://youtu.be/7OSO5Wb815c
Acclaimed Irish novelist Nuala O’Connor’s bold reimagining of the life of James Joyce’s wife, muse, and the model for Molly Bloom in Ulysses is a “lively and loving paean to the indomitable Nora Barnacle” (Edna O’Brien).
Dublin, 1904. Nora Joseph Barnacle is a twenty-year-old from Galway working as a maid at Finn’s Hotel. She enjoys the liveliness of her adopted city and on June 16—Bloomsday—her life is changed when she meets Dubliner James Joyce, a fateful encounter that turns into a lifelong love. Despite his hesitation to marry, Nora follows Joyce in pursuit of a life beyond Ireland, and they surround themselves with a buoyant group of friends that grows to include Samuel Beckett, Peggy Guggenheim, and Sylvia Beach.
But as their life unfolds, Nora finds herself in conflict between their intense desire for each other and the constant anxiety of living in poverty throughout Europe. She desperately wants literary success for Jim, believing in his singular gift and knowing that he thrives on being the toast of the town, and it eventually provides her with a security long lacking in her life and his work. So even when Jim writes, drinks, and gambles his way to literary acclaim, Nora provides unflinching support and inspiration, but at a cost to her own happiness and that of their children.
With gorgeous and emotionally resonant prose, Nora is a heartfelt portrayal of love, ambition, and the quiet power of an ordinary woman who was, in fact, extraordinary.
The Last Day at Bowen’s Court
“A subtle, compelling and detailed reimagining of one of the great enduring love affairs of the literary twentieth century. Eibhear Walshe has brought a vanished time back to life.”
This remarkable novel explores the life of the Irish novelist, Elizabeth Bowen, her time in London during the Second World War and her ‘reporting’ on Irish neutrality for the Ministry of Information. At the centre of the novel is her Blitz love affair with the Canadian diplomat, Charles Ritchie, a wartime romance that inspired her most famous novel, The Heat of the Day, a gripping story about espionage and loyalty that became a best-seller. The story is told from the point of view of Bowen herself, and also from that of her lover Charles Ritchie, her husband Alan Cameron and Ritchie’s wife Sylvia. It is set in wartime London, Dublin and North Cork, and deals with the private and public conflicts of love and of national identity in a time of upheaval and liberation. At the centre of the novel is a portrait of Elizabeth Bowen, one of Ireland’s most influential writers.
Heather Corbally Bryant teaches in the Writing Program at Wellesley College; she is the author of the prize-winning book, Elizabeth Bowen and the Landscape of War, and ten books of poetry. Her poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and her chapbook, James Joyce’s Water Closet, won honorable mention in the Finishing Line Press Open Chapbook Competition. She is currently at work on a book of essays, A Memoir in Snapshots.
Nuala O’Connor was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1970. A graduate of Trinity College Dublin, she is a novelist and short story writer, and lives in County Galway with her husband and three children. Nuala has won many prizes for her short fiction including the Short Story Prize in the UK and Ireland’s Francis MacManus Award. She is editor at flash e-zine Splonk.
Eibhear Walshe was born in Waterford, studied in Dublin, and now lives in Cork, where he lectures in the School of English at University College Cork and is Director of Creative Writing. He has published in the area of memoir, literary criticism and biography, and his books include Kate O’Brien: a Writing Life (2006), Oscar’s Shadow: Wilde and Ireland (2012), and A Different Story: The Writings of Colm Tóbín (2013). His childhood memoir, Cissie’s Abattoir (2009) was broadcast on RTE’s Book on One. His novel, The Diary of Mary Travers (2014) was shortlisted for the Kerry Group Novel of the Year in 2015 and longlisted for the 2016 International Dublin Literary Award. He was associate editor, with Catherine Marshall, of Modern Ireland in 100 Art Works, edited by Fintan O’Toole and shortlisted for the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Award. His novel on Handel, The Trumpet Shall Sound was published in 2019 was described as ‘fascinating, deep and utterly absorbing’ by the Irish Times and ‘a plausible, sensuous coming-of-age story about a genius wrestling with love and ambition across eighteenth century Europe’ by Emma Donoghue.
I’m pleased with this (p)review of NORA, from Publisher’s Weekly:
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.)