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