Tuesday, June 14, 2011

REVIEW: Ghost Light, by Joseph O'Connor

Ghost Light, by Joseph O'Connor. Published 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Fiction.

Ghost Light is an enjoyable and somewhat experimental novel about the love affair between Maire O'Neil, née Molly Allgood, an Irish stage actress of the early 20th century and the playwright J.M. Synge. Although the two apparently did have a relationship, this story is a highly fictionalized account which moves back and forth through time from the early days of their affair through Maire's death years and years later as a faded and solitary alcoholic.

I say the book is somewhat experimental because as it shifts in time it also shifts in perspective, moving from a standard third-person to an interior monologue and back out again. I had a little trouble following the shifts at first but soon found myself deeply engrossed in the story; in other words, it was a slow read for me but one that I found very satisfying in the end. O'Connor tells a very lyrical and sad story between two people who seem both deeply dysfunctional and perfect for each other, but Maire's life doesn't end with the end of her relationship with Synge. O'Connor gives us hints that she finds some happiness before her life enters its final descent into obscurity.

I think of Ghost Light as another one of those intellectual beach reads. It's very Irish, and people who like Irish literature and the literature of the stage will really enjoy it. I liked the scenery of the theatrical world with its colorful characters and shenanigans and the details of time and place that O'Connor uses to enrich the story. I found it engaging but it can also be a little confusing, which is why I suggest taking it slow. Lit fic for a summer's day, Ghost Light is a fine entertainment of a book.

I read this book for the Ireland Reading Challenge 2011.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.