GHOST LIGHT by Joseph O’Connor

Book Quote:

“Didn’t I know it the moment I saw you, before you’d ever given me the time of day. Long before you ever touched me, or even I heard your name spoken. Girls’ nonsense, I hear you saying. Never happens in life. Only in storybooks and songs. And the queerest thing of all is: I agree with my Tramper. I haven’t hide nor hair of reasons for what’s between us now. And if ever you wanted to quit your impatient girl truly, and our little story had to be stored away in a room that’s only sometimes remembered, that’s still a room I’d want, and I’d go there now and again, like some room in an old hotel on a seafront someplace where two sinners did something they shouldn’t. Do you mind what I am telling you? It is the God’s honest truth. Even if I never saw you or heard from you again, you’d already have been the miracle of my life.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody  (FEB 1, 2011)

Ghost Light by Joseph O’Connor is a brilliant and complex book. It is one of the best books I have read in the last five years. The language is poetic and hallucinatory and this is a book where one can’t skip passages or lines. Every word is necessary and the whole is a gift put together with the greatest care and love.

The novel is about a grand love affair between Molly Allgood, an actress (stage name Maire O’Neill), and the playwright John Synge, most well-known for his play, Playboy of the Western World. The book starts out in 1952 on the streets of post-war London. Molly, 62 years old, is walking the cold blustery city and freezing. She lives in a hovel and drinks too much. She is hungry and cold, going from one sheltered spot to another and hallucinating from her hunger and her freezing. She is on her way to a BBC radio reading and on her way she remembers, in broken dream sequences, her relationship with John Synge.

Molly and John Synge had an affair and at the time of their affair she was eighteen years old and he was thirty-six. John was very ill, most likely with lymphoma but perhaps tuberculosis or some other lung disease. He had one neck surgery after another. He lived only two years after they met. They came from opposite sides of the tracks. Molly was an actress who was from a mixed marriage – protestant and catholic – and she worked with her mother in a drapery shop. John came from old money and was of protestant background. He had a symbiotic relationship with his mother which made his relationship with Molly doomed from the start as his mother would not permit him to bring Molly home and threatened to cut off his trust fund should he marry her.

The book goes back and forth in time from 1952 London to 1905 Dublin where Molly and John were involved in a theater group. John was the resident playwright for William Yeats and the Grand Dame of the theater was Lady Augusta Gregory. Molly was an actress in the theater troupe. In those days it was very risqué for women to act.

Molly and John had to keep their affair a secret because John was terribly afraid of anyone finding out about them. He and Molly met on trains and traveled to Wicklow together for a vacation but acted like they did not know one another in Dublin. The affair was tender and poignant. John was very ill and the marriage was doomed from the start, never to be realized. They remained engaged until John’s death. John called Molly his Pegeen, his Changeling girl.

We travel with Molly to the United States where she acted after John’s death. She recollects the plays she was in and the popularity she once had. She ended up marrying a philandering husband and had two children, a son who died during World War II and a daughter from whom she is semi-estranged because she can not get along with her son-in-law.

The novel contains imagined letters and real letters between the two lovers and hallucinatory memories from Molly’s desperate mind as she tries to stay alive despite the difficult circumstances she finds herself in. My favorite parts of the novel are when it travels to 1905 and the reader gets to participate in the acting troupe with the great Synge and Yeats.

Parts of this novel are true and other parts are fictional according to Mr. O’Connor. Mr. O’Connor grew up in Dublin near the Synge house and was fascinated by the playwright’s life. This novel is the outcome of his fascination. In some ways it reminded me of the poetic beauty of Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin. Sense of place is very important. This is a novel with grand scope and great beauty, one that will not be forgotten by any lover of literature.

AMAZON READER RATING: from 23 readers
PUBLISHER: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (February 1, 2011)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
EXTRAS: Reading Guide
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:The Star of the Sea



February 1, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: 2011 Favorites, Facing History, Reading Guide, United Kingdom

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