I’ve recently read three books all set in and by Irish authors – Walking With Ghosts by Gabriel Byrne, That Old Country Music by Kevin Barry and Nora (A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce) by Nuala O’Connor.
My walk through Ireland took me on a journey with Byrne and his childhood ghosts in Walking With Ghosts, on a very short-lived walk with Barry and his rather unlikeable stories and finally with James Joyce and his wife and muse Nora, in this fictional account of their lives.
Walking with Ghosts: This slim memoir by Gabriel Byrne is one you can read in a day. Which is exactly what I did. Now, I’m not sure this is the type of memoir you may think you’re going to read. It is not a tell all, he does not go into any detail at all about his marriages, his children and he mentions only less then a handful of movies he’s been in. (Although he will say he prefers theatre over film – he feels very awkward in front of a camera.) He only mentions maybe one or two big stars he’s acted with.
Instead, this aptly named memoir is a walk through his childhood – he returns home and walks through the places that meant something to him growing up, but most are no longer there. There are but ghosts. It is a nod of love to his mother, his father, and to one of his sisters that died at an early age. We do find out that he went to the seminary at a very young age to train to be a priest. However, that ended after an event that is sadly too familiar at the hands of a priest. Byrne also talks at length about his struggles with alcohol and his severe lack of self-esteem. There is also no chronological order to any of the movies or theatre he briefly, very briefly mentions.
What you will find here though is his incredible gift for prose. He writes like a dream. Simply gorgeous. There were many times I paused and re-read what he said because it was so gorgeously written. Should he ever write a novel, or a collection of stories, I would be first in line to read. Read this for his gorgeous writing for sure!
I hope you are proud of me despite my shortcomings, that I brought you at least some happiness. Forgive my inability to show you love, my impatience, my cruelty in turning away when maybe you needed me most. I know now your loneliness….I feared you would swallow my soul if I allowed myself to open up to you…But I still remember you at the most unexpected moments. Even now in this Broadway dressing room, here you are, my mother, in the corner, your ghost never far from the action.
That Old Country Music by Kevin Barry is a collection of short stories. Tales filled to the brim with toxic masculinity never appeal to me, therefore this collection was thrown across the room in a fit of disgust. His stories, or the ones I read, were too similar in their content, these stories of men and their creep-filled behaviour towards women. Why are men given a pass for this shit? Why is this published to high and critical acclaim? I only found myself disturbed by the content of these stories.
Languishing on my shelf for many years now has been O’Connor’s novel that reimagines the life of Emily Dickinson. Miss Emily is still one I need to read, but Nora was one that was coming in to the library, so if I put this one on hold it would mean I would have to read it, right?
I went into this book with absolutely no real knowledge of James Joyce or Nora. The first two pages described a sexually charged scene and subsequent pages featured much of the same. I Googled James and Nora Joyce and the Wikipedia entry did state that their very first night together was as how those scenes were written on pages one and two. As I read more through the Wikipedia entry, I found I was reading a very similar structure and timeline to O’Connor’s novel. At almost 500-pages, this became much too long to read what I felt was fairly summarized well in Wikipedia. I will say however that O’Connor does have a lovely writing style, but that wasn’t enough to keep me fully invested in this story. (I only ever felt so sorry for Nora and the life she had to live with James – however she never could be without her James and be happy, so stayed she always did.)