Tag Archives: New Island


NORA @ the Nora Barnacle Museum, Galway

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.

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.

Irish Times Books to Watch Out for in 2021

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. ‘

Top Reads for 2021 – Sunday Independent

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.


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.)

New Island to publish NORA

NORA at the Nora Barnacle Museum, Galway

New Island Books, Glenshesk House, 10 Richview Office Park, Clonskeagh, Dublin 14 D14 V8C4 www.newisland.ie

NORA will be published by New Island Books in Ireland in April 2021 and is available to pre-order from www.newisland.ie/fiction/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.


Nuala O’Connor | pbk €16.95 | 400pp | 9781848407893 | April 2021

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 caoimhe.fox@newisland.ie / +353 1 278 4225 Ext 004.

Publicity enquiries contact:
Peter O’Connell peter@peteroconnellmedia.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