Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Ghost Light: A Novel by Joseph O'Connor (2011, 256 pages)

The Irish Quarter

I just finished a few days ago Star of the Sea by Joseph O'Connor and I was completely amazed by it.  (My post on it is here.)  Star of the Sea centers on the crossing of the ocean in 1847 from Galway to New York City by people driven from Ireland by the famine.

I am not sure this is right but at this moment I think Ghost Light:  A Novel is the greater of the two novels.  Ghost Light:  A Novel centers on Molly Allgood, the love interest in the life of John Synge, author of The Playboy of the Western World.  John Synge (1871 to 1909) is one of the most important authors in Irish literary history.  W. B. Yeats, who plays a minor but important role in this novel, proclaimed him a great genius.  I will say it takes either great self-confidence or a degree of hubris to include W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, and John Synge as characters in a novel but O'Connor pulls this off with transcendent brilliance.   The novel begins in London long after Synge has died.  He never married her, even though he wanted to because his wealthy mother, by whom he seems dominated at least in his portrayal here, did not approve of her.   Molly Allgood is in very bad shape in every possible way.   She keeps her pride by reliving the days when Yeats proclaimed her a great actress and John Synge loved her.  Lady Gregory comes across as very class conscious and tries to tell Synge, not seemingly a strong person, that he is degrading himself through his relationship with Molly.   

There is just so much to like in this novel.  It was just wonderful to see W. B. Yeats brought down from the status of a towering icon to a real person.  One of the really amazing parts of the book was the treatment of Yeats.  As we first meet him he seems a complete egoist, totally full of himself but then we slowly begin to grasp what he was and we are humbled to be in his presence.   We do not like him but Gods don't always have to be likable.  

The novel goes into a lot of detail of how The Abbey Theater worked, behind the stage.  It flashed widely back and forth in time. Molly Allgood (also known by her stage named Marie O'Neill-1885 to 1952) outlived John Synge by fifty-three years but she never moved on from him.   How she copes with her poverty is just heartbreaking.  We also learn about her film career, her years down and out in London, and the start of her acting career.  She appeared in Juno and the Peacock directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  She married twice but, had children but it was always John Synge in her heart.

I love this book.  I am also very interested in the people in the novel.   I concede if you are not interested in John Synge (or for sure if you have not heard of him) this book may not be for you.  I would really suggest you read at least The Playbook of the Western World before reading this novel.  Everyone in this novel is a flawed person, even Yeats, but that just makes the work all the more wonderful.  

I will soon read his novel about the Irish in the American Civil War, Redemption Falls.   

Please share your experiences with O'Connor with us.  

I am also seeking recommendations for post 1990 Irish novels.  

Mel u


Unknown said...

I hope to read 'Ghost Light' too. I've read 'Star of the Sea' and 'Redemption Falls'. The latter is very innovative in its use of language itself - O'Connor invents character through his original use of language. It is not an easy read, and will make the reader run the gamut of emotions. It is thrilling, unsettling, dismaying - and frequently downright scary. But unforgettable. In this novel O'Connor takes creative risks: he enables form and content to come together through language and character. Congratulations to him!

Kathleen Jones said...

Ghost light is just so different to Star of the Sea and just as wonderful. He's a fascinating author.