Joseph O' Connor
I love Irish writers. They have an innate sense of story that comes through even when the story is not told in typical narrative style. This is a strength of Joseph O’Connor’s Ghost Light. Ostensibly, this is the story of a promising actress in the days of the Irish Literary Revival. She worked alongside her much more accomplished sister in the Abbey Theatre and fell in love with the playwright J.M. Synge. Ghost Light tells their story. But the story does not follow a standard narrative arc. Rather, it begins with the actress, Molly Allgood, alcoholic and broken-down; collecting empties for her daily shot, charming the publicans with her (as she believes) undiminished beauty and grace. The ghost light of the title is both the stage light left burning in the theatre and the memory she carries of her affair with the odd and emotionally distant Synge. As she tells her story, the action moves between the golden days of their love affair and the dark and shabby life Molly leads after John‘s death. How much of Molly’s life is real and how much imagined, is left up to the reader – Molly is not particularly reliable when retelling her story, but her wit is keen and her language evocative. The emotions she evinces are true and the descriptions of the bright season of their love is lush and lovely, populated with the great characters of the Irish theatre such as W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory. Molly is a winning character and the story she tells is both beautiful and heartbreaking.