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Ghost Light – Joseph O’Connor

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This rates as one of the best books I’ve read in a while.  From beginning to end I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Ghost Light

Ghost Light

“Ghost Light” is a fictional story based on the relationship between John Synge (the Irish playwright) and Molly Allgood (Abbey actress).  In October 1952, Molly, now an aged woman of 67, makes her way across London for a radio broadcast with the BBC and reflects back on her life, her time at the Abbey Theatre, and her relationship with Synge.

A bleak picture is portrayed of her life that contrasts starkly with her memories of youth and better days.  She lives in poverty, alone, dependant on drink, cold and often hungry.  She has been married twice, divorced once and widowed once.  Molly shows great ‘gusto’ for life and her attitude adds humour to the sadness.  I wanted to cry and laugh at the same time at her behaviour and some of the things she said.

I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Molly in her earlier years.  She was so young and so infatuated with Synge and I felt he treated her awfully.  They argue often and he frequently makes cutting remarks to her.  While they are in Wicklow on holidays he goes away for a whole day and leaves her alone in a cottage in the middle of nowhere while he meets Yeats for lunch. He won’t bring her with him because he says Yeats doesn’t know the extent of their friendship and is a bit old fashioned. He doesn’t return until the next morning. I’ve no doubt he was interested in her but I’d wonder why, or in what way.  Did he ever really expect to have a long relationship with her?

Maybe I’m looking at the situation from the eyes of someone who’s been through a pretty disastrous relationship with an older man.  (I was 19, he was 27.)  Or maybe it’s because my eldest daughter is now 17 and so close to Molly’s age when she met Synge that I wonder what a man of his age saw in such a young, naiive child. Synge strikes me as quite selfish.  When Molly breaks up with him after a row they have in Wicklow, he persists in chasing after her until eventually he persuades her to talk to him in Dublin one day.  She tells him that she doesn’t make him happy and that some other girl will.  He then tells her that there will be no other girl because he is dying.  If he really loved her would he tell her this?  Would he not wish her to be free and to have a good life for herself?  Maybe I’ve too many romantic notions in my mind..

Of course the most agonising time of all for Molly must be when Synge dies and his family decide to have a private funeral.  Molly is not invited.  All her letters to him are destroyed and, according to various internet sources, any mention of her is avoided by Synge’s biographers.

Ghost Light is an amazing novel and a wonderful literary composition.  Thoughts of the story have stayed in my head long after putting the book down and it has certainly stirred my interest in the real story behind John Synge and Molly Allgood.

Let The Great World Spin – Colum McCann

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“Let The Great World Spin” was the Bloggers’ Book Club’s May book.  I’m only posting my review on it now as I’ve been so busy with work and with ferrying the two ‘teenagers’ to and from school and exams and all their social dates.  I’m expecting to do a lot of blogging from next week as school runs will be over and I’ll be looking for an excuse to dodge the housework.

Let The Great World Spin

My copy of "Let The Great World Spin"

LTGWS is probably not the sort of book I’d have purchased off my own bat.  The blurb didn’t do anything for me.  However, I was pleasantly surprised – I found it quite enjoyable, except for one or two minor little parts of it.

The story hinges around Phillipe Petit’s tightrope walk between the Twin Towers in 1974 (although McCann never mentions the tightrope walker’s name), and reveals how the lives of eight strangers ‘spin’ gradually towards each other.

The first chapter gained my attention – five pages, beautifully descriptive, of the man poised one hundred and ten stories up, at the edge of the tightrope.  McCann captures the images and sounds of a ‘hushed’ New York in such a way that when ‘the watchers below pulled in their breath all at once’, I almost did too.

I found it difficult to concentrate on the rest of the book as it jumped from one character to another, although I enjoyed reading the story of Corrigan and his brother who were brought up by their mother in Dublin.  Being a Dub, originally, I love to hear of stories that may have happened in places known to me.  I felt sorry for Tillie and her daughter Jazzlyn, both hookers.  Their story was touching and sad, as were most of the characters’ stories. I warmed immediately to Gloria.

I sympathised with Claire but found her chapter of the book very tedious.  She lost her son to the Vietnam war and a great deal of her story related to him and his job in the army.  I have absolutely zilch interest in war or war history so her story was lost on me, I’m sorry to say.

I wasn’t particularly interested in the programmer or the photographer  and they didn’t play major parts in the book.

I liked how everyone became intertwined at the end, sort of a six degrees of separation type of thing.  The ending made me think of how someone that can be destined for a life of hardship and sorrow can find themselves travelling a different path because something has changed in their world.

All in all, a book that I’m glad I read, even if it did take me a month to get through it due to other things going on.

June’s book is ‘The Children’s Book’ by A.S. Byatt.  I have this on order from Easons so hopefully I’ll have it soon.

Book Review – “Brooklyn” (Colm Tóibín)

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I finally finished reading “Brooklyn” today after starting it, in earnest, yesterday.  “Brooklyn” had been the April book of choice for the Blogger’s Book Club on Lily’s Blog.

Zoe Heller of the Guardian describes this book as “The most compelling and moving portrait of a young woman I have read in a long time.” I have no idea how many portraits of young women Zoe Heller has read but I didn’t find the book a bit compelling until I was three quarters of the way through it (and only then because I wanted to know which guy Eilis ended up with).

The story, set in the 1950s, revolves around Eilis whose sister arranges for her to go to work in New York as job opportunities are scarce in Enniscorthy.  Eilis who works in a shop for dragon lady, Mrs. Kelly, hands in her notice and sets off.

I think I could have related more to Eilis if  Tóibín had been more descriptive of her.  I don’t think her age was ever conveyed to the reader and there were times when I thought of her as being 16 and other times when I wondered if she was nearer to her twenties.  Throughout the book she seemed to have no personality of her own and was constantly driven by those around her.

When Eilis leaves for America she first takes the quickest boat trip ever to Liverpool – I say “quickest” because there was no description of the journey, whatsoever – something I found odd considering that this was Eilis’s first boat trip.  The ensuing trip to America is spread over eight pages, however, and deals mainly with her cabin companion and her trunk, a locked bathroom and lots of puking in the corridor.

I felt that there were unneccessary references to things in the book that needn’t have been mentioned.  Sometimes a paragraph would begin as an interesting anecdote only to fizzle out into nothing.  One such paragraph began:

One day as she was walking to work, crossing State Street, Eilis saw a man selling watches.  She was early for work and so had time to linger at his stand.  She knew nothing about types of watches but thought the prices were very low…..”

Nothing happened in this paragraph except that she bought the watches!!  That’s it!! Am I the only one who thought she was going to be ripped off and end up with a broken watch or a cheap tacky dud??

Eilis, as well as working for a clothing store, studies book-keeping at night.  She is greatly concerned that she is not reading enough on commercial law and that she hasn’t taken enough notes.  She approaches a fellow student after class – a ‘young man with glasses and curly hair and a friendly yet studious appearance’. After talking to him briefly he says that he’ll see her next week and that they’ll ask the tutor what book he’s reading from then.  Maybe I’ve been reading one too many Patricia Scanlan novels but, surely to God, I can’t be the only one who expected to turn the page and find that a week later they’ve met up again and they’re going out together!! Anyway….it didn’t happen…if she ever sees the friendly, studious student again we’re not told.

SPOILER

Eilis meets Tony, an Italian.  They date.  Tony is eager to marry her but she is unsure of her feelings.  Eilis receives news of her sister, Rose’s, death and needs to return home and, when Tony begs her to marry him before she departs, she relents, and they marry in secret.  Once back in Ireland she meets up with Jim who is smitten with her.  She gets letters from Tony and sets them aside, meaning to reply.  She extends her stay in Ireland in order to attend a friend’s wedding.  Lo and behold, Mrs. Kelly, Eilis’s former employer, sends for her and takes great delight in letting Eilis know that she has heard from Mrs. Kehoe and tells her in not so many words that she knows exactly what is going on.  So Eilis sets off back for America again, stuffing Tony’s unread letters into her suitcase so that she can read them on the journey.

At this point I was silently screaming at Eilis that she should open the letters and read them!!! What if Tony had written to tell her that he’d gotten fed up with her because she’d stayed away so long and that he had met someone else?  Obviously Eilis hadn’t read as many books as I had though and didn’t have as wild an imagination!

I’m looking forward to reading the other Blogger Book Club reviews during the course of the week.  I know that Lily has hers posted already but I haven’t read any other reviews yet.

“Let the Great World Spin” by Colum McCann is the choice for May, thanks to Treasa.  Must go and order a copy now!

Bloggers’ Book Club

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Brooklyn - Colm Toibin

Brooklyn – Colm Toibin

Thanks to Lily Collison’s idea of setting up a bloggers’ online book club, I now have an incentive again to keep up to date with reading.  I had been a member of Clonmel Library’s book club for a while but, unfortunately, the club had to take a back seat when I started studying. So too did books other than those related to Operating Systems and Programming. ( The amount of computer related books on my shelves, at this stage, nearly outnumber those in my Stephen King collection….which is frightening….)

Lily’s bookclub revolves around the idea of reading one book per month, which is something that I think I’ll manage easily enough.  This month’s book is Colm Toibín’s ‘Brooklyn’, pictured above.  It’s  on offer in Easons in their ‘3 for 2′ range so I picked up ‘Shutter Island’ and ‘Q and A’ as well as ‘the more you buy, the more you save’…*cough*.

At last count, there were 16 bloggers participating in the bloggers’ online bookclub, which is a great achievement. The club is open to everyone and all the info can be found on the Blogger’s Book Club section of Lily’s site.

Looking forward to reading and comparing notes on the 2nd of May! :)