Friday, 17 September 2010

Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor

I have Star of the Sea at home but when I read the review of Ghost Light over at Reading Matters I decided to make this my first foray into Joseph O’Connor’s writing.

The novel follows Molly Allgood a once acclaimed star of the Irish stage who was engaged to the Irish playwright John Synge at the time of his death. Although these were real characters, the story has taken many liberties with the facts so I read this as I would a fictional book (which I believe is the intent).

Molly in the present is in a sorry state. She is an alcoholic, living in poverty in London and she dwells on her love affair with Synge and her fall from grace. The novel gives flashbacks to her time with Synge which is written in a way that provides flashes of bitter-sweet moments which mean so much to Molly rather than a straightforward dialogue. Couple this with the 2nd person narrative and this becomes difficult book to get into. One of the chapters is written in the form of a letter to a newspaper from a man complaining about an Irish drunk he saw in central London who the reader knows is Molly, and another chapter is written in the form of a humours Irish play.

Despite humour radiating sometimes from Molly, this book as a general atmosphere of despair and sadness especially when this is contrasted to her younger days as a young women in Dublin with her whole life ahead of her. The character of Synge himself is seen through Molly's eyes and we see a man who is ill, dying, aloof, capable of extreme tenderness and yet evades the question of marriage. The parts where his staunchly religious family deny her access to her funeral and make her 'sell' his letters to them are truly heartbreaking and yet Molly has survived.

I read this book quite slowly and despite being under 300 pages it took me much longer to read than I normally do but it is superbly written and I liked where the book took me.

Would I recommend it? This is not a fast paced plot based book and not what I would describe as an 'easy' read, but if you want to read a beautifully written book at a measured pace then I would highly recommend this.

Verdict 4/5

Posted by Jess


  1. I read Star of the Sea and liked it quite a bit. However, it took awhile to get through. His writing takes a bit of effort but I felt it was worth it in the end.

  2. I have to admit something that's going to make me sound like a complete jerk - I'm really intimidated by books about Irish people or set in Ireland. So many of the ones I've read, excepting Oscar Wilde, have been so depressing and always tends to involve Catholicism and/or alcoholism and/or poverty, and I just have such a hard time with them. I have the same problem with WWII fiction - it's so depressing I can't read it. It's not that I think Irish people are inherently bad, Catholic, alcoholic, or poor - it's just that I haven't found books that don't focus on one of those issues!

    Okay now that I'm done showing how stupid I am...

  3. I wasn't really impressed with Star of the Sea, but I might check this one out to give Joseph O'Connor another try.

    (useless trivia -- did you know that he's Sinead's brother?)

  4. Ti - Thanks for the warning on Star of the Sea, for some reason I thought it was a light read (duh)

    Amanda - I know what you mean PMSL. Funnily enough I watched an interview with O'Connor once who complained that growing up he came across the same thing in Irish books in general. I find that quite often it either swings towards the Angela Ashes route and contains all the points you mentioned, or it swings towards the P.S I love you/Maeve Binchey route.

    I'm completely ignorant on Irish litrature so am unable to suggest any authers that dont fall into either of those those catagories. If anyone else can suggest any though?

    Suzanne - no I didnt know that, I can see the family resembalence though. Its worth checking out Kims review though to make sure you might like it.

  5. I've had Star Of The Sea on my TBR for years (and it's in storage in the UK until 2012 when I get home so it'll be on the TBR for a while!) and I've always subconsciously avoided it............I'm still not sure that I'm itching to read any of his work.......

  6. Something about this book really catches my attention. I think I am going to give it a shot.

  7. I thought Joseph O'Connor's writing in Star of the Sea was beautiful. I have Ghost Spirit waiting to be picked up from the library and really looking forward to it. Hope I', not going to be disappointed.

  8. Sazzy - Star of the sea has been on my book shelf for about a year so I completely understand! For some reason though this book appealed to me more.

    Stephanie - Thats how I reacted when I read Kimbos review, something made me want to read it.

    Cat - I think if you know your already a fan of his writing then I'm sure you will love this one. I did like his writing overall.

  9. Jess...this sounds good to me; love the cover as well -- great job on the review.

  10. I love the picture on the cover, and that all by itself makes me want to read the book. (It is the same cover as Little, Big by Malcolm Crowley.) This is the second time today I've run across it. Your review makes is sound fascinating. I'm adding it to my TBR pile.

  11. Bibliophile By the Sea - its quit a haunting cover I thought - it really matchs the feel of the book I think.

    LifetimeReader - I hope you enjoy it.