1907 Edwardian Dublin, a city of whispers and rumors. At the Abbey Theatre W. B. Yeats is working with the talented John Synge, his resident playwright. It is here that Synge, the author of The Playboy of the Western World and The Tinker's Wedding, will meet an actress still in her teens named Molly Allgood. Rebellious, irreverent, beautiful, flirtatious, Molly is a girl of the inner-city tenements, dreaming of stardom in America. Witty and watchful, she has dozens of admirers, but it is the damaged older playwright who is her secret passion despite the barriers of age, class, education, and religion.
Synge is a troubled, reticent genius, the son of a once prosperous landowning family, a poet of fiery language and tempestuous passions. Yet his life is hampered by conventions and by the austere and God-fearing mother with whom he lives. Scarred by a childhood of immense loneliness and severity, he has long been ill, but he loves to walk the wild places of Ireland. The affair, sternly opposed by friends and family, is turbulent, sometimes cruel, and often tender.
1950s postwar London, an old woman walks across the city in the wake of a hurricane. As she wanders past bomb sites and through the forlorn beauty of wrecked terraces and wintry parks, her mind drifts in and out of the present as she remembers her life's great love, her once dazzling career, and her travels in America. Vivid and beautifully written, Molly's swirling, fractured narrative moves from Dublin to London via New York with luminous language and raw feeling. Ghost Light is a story of great sadness and joy—a tour de force from the widely acclaimed and bestselling author of Star of the Sea.
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About the Author
Joseph O'Connor was born in Dublin. His books include six previous novels: Cowboys and Indians (short-listed for the Whitbread Prize), Desperadoes, The Salesman, Inishowen, Star of the Sea, and Redemption Falls. Star of the Sea became an international bestseller, winning the Irish Post Award for Literature, and France's Prix Millepages, Italy's Premio Acerbi, and the Prix Madeleine Zepter for European Novel of the Year. His work has been published in thirty-five languages.
Joseph O’Connor was born in Dublin. His books include the novels Ghost Light, Cowboys and Indians (short-listed for the Whitbread Prize), Desperadoes, The Salesman, Inishowen, Star of the Sea, and Redemption Falls. Star of the Sea became an international bestseller, winning the Irish Post Award for Literature, and France’s Prix Millepages, Italy’s Premio Acerbi, and the Prix Madeleine Zepter for European Novel of the Year. His work has been published in thirty-five languages.
Date of Birth:September 20, 1963
Place of Birth:Dublin, Ireland
Education:B.A., University College, Dublin, 1984; M.A., 1986; University College, Oxford, 1987; M.A., University of Leeds, 1991
Read an Excerpt
A LODGING-HOUSE ROOM IN LONDON
27 October 1952
In the top floor room of the dilapidated town house across the Terrace, a light has been on all night. From your bed it was visible whenever you turned towards the window, which you had to do in order to fetch your bottle from the floor. Most nights, the same. The bulb is lighted at dusk. In the mornings, a couple of moments after the street lamps flicker out, it dies, and the ragged curtain is closed.
You are sixty-five now, perhaps the age of that house, perhaps even a little older – what a thought. You approach your only window; it is shockingly cold to the touch. Winter is coming to England. The weather has been bitter. Last night a hurricane struck London.
You have never noticed anyone enter or exit that forlorn house, but the postman still delivers to it, stuffing envelopes through the broken glass in the door panel – the letterbox has been nailed closed many years. Men urinate in the porch. One of the street-girls plies her trade there, and the balustrade has long been splashed with obscene words. Many of the window embrasures are boarded. Buddleia sprouts from the façade.
You have a sense that the occupant of the room is a man. One midnight a fleeting shadow crossed the upper windowpane – so you thought – and there was maleness in how it moved. There was a time when you used to think about him – how can he live alone in a bomb-blasted old house? who sends the letters? what are they about? – for it helped to pass the brutal hours immediately preceding dawn. But this morning someone else is come to you again, out of the same light, somehow, out of an unseen room, out of a city you have lived in the last thirteen years but have never found a reason to call your own. This has happened to all of us: a coasting across the mind by one we had thought forgotten or purposefully banished. But today will prove him a wanderer reluctant to be exiled, an emigrant still attempting to come home.
He could be difficult sometimes. What use in denying it? Irritable, unforgiving, for a relatively young man. Because the whisperers and poke-bonnets and gossips and sniggerers always made such a point of the age difference between you. Envious vixens. Triple-chinned hypocrites, too deceitful to utter their true objection. What are years? Fictions. Ink-stains on a calendar. There are moments, of late, when yesterday feels a life ago, and tomorrow an unborn century, so unreachable it seems. And had he lived beyond his youth, the years would have contracted, because a married couple become the same age, grow to resemble one another over time, like bookends, their recollections in greyed bindings between them and neither bothering to read what once divided them. What's this he'd be now? Eighty? Something. A slippered old duffer. A shuffler. An auld bags. Hard to work the calculation through the fug of a hangover. Your reckoning of the decades keeps stalling, tripping up. After a few ruined attempts, you abandon it.
You take a small, sour sip. Medicinal. Just a settler. The reek of gin dampens your eyes, somehow intensifies his presence, but you grimace it away with a swallow. The daily spite of this unmannerly town. Wasn't it Yeats wrote that? Or my other lunk? Shaw. Dublin, he was whining about; but all towns are unmannerly, to the old, the poor, the collaborator. What is it in poets that must dress a thing up? Christ, they'd nearly call their dandruff 'the fairy-snow'.
Not long after dawn. The shadow-kissing time. Grey light at the window and the whistle of the kettle as you move about, failing to keep warm. Mittens flittered to ribbons. You wear a dead man's boots. Well, no point in wastefulness. A sin. Down below in Brickfields Terrace, a milk wagon is delivering. You wonder would the man advance you another month's credit but the fear of being declined dissuades you. Hoarfrost silvers the pavement, the telephone kiosk, the street, the wrecked colonnades of the house where the light burns all night, an awning over the grocer's on the corner of Porchester Road. Rooks are circling the chimney breasts.
Johnny Synge's bit of native. The proddy's little squaw. That Kingstown playboy's huer. Insults hurled long ago by the wags of witty Dublin, still audible after more than forty years.
You shuffle away from the window, to the cubbyhole by the cooking ring. The room smells of cabbage-water and dust. Somewhere below you a wireless is playing too loudly but you do not object to the interruption, find it oddly cheering sometimes. There are hours, late at night, when you miss its consolation. Silence can be frightening to the lonely. He always said you were over-imaginative, too given to fantasy. A Catholic trait, he would joke. These nights, you read Mills & Boons from the tuppenny library in Earl's Court Road. Sure you'd be lost for a bit of an escape only it wasn't for True Romances. How he'd have hated them, your dogeared and tearstained bedfellows. 'Opium for spinsters,' he'd mock.
The sun would dry the oceans wide;
A song that would draw the heart out of you, Molly. That anyone ever felt such devotion.
A drop or two of milk would take the scald off the gin. This cheap stuff hits your throat like boiled sand. Eighty-one. His age. If he was alive today. Were he to be alive. Still correcting your grammar. The sense that you were an embarrassment to him has never quite surrendered. The difference was not only one of age.
The cupboard contains a tea caddy decorated with a transfer of a parrot, and an empty sugar bag that can be scraped for its few last grains. You are thinking about the milkman, who is old beyond his years. They say he was shell-shocked at Anzio. The children of the neighbourhood are afraid of him, call him names. It is whispered that he has queer obsessions, with dogdirt, with blood, with immigrants, especially Poles, and the lack of public lavatories. He used to make a nuisance of himself with a pretty schoolgirl as she took the short cut to St Catherine's, and now no schoolgirls are ever seen on the Terrace. He has the grin of a corpse and the bearing of a soldier, but sometimes he stretches his stride as one negotiating steppingstones, laughing the while through his teeth. Has he failed to understand that the gaiety of the passers-by is forced, is actually a peculiarly English kind of hatred? Perhaps an understanding could be reached. If one went to him with honesty. But no. It would not be seemly.
— One does not ask for credit, Changeling. If appropriate, it is offered. One must always cut one's cloth having regard to proprieties. Anything less is the death of civilisation.
The cat slinks haughtily across the sticky, bare floorboards and arches its back against a chair-leg. Of a sudden it appears taken by a leather-framed photograph that is propped between two empty candlesticks on the mantelshelf. The man in the portrait has been dead a long time. His clothes are Edwardian: a shabby plus-four suit and brogues, a loose varsity cap, a knotted kerchief about the throat. An ashplant cane in the gloved right hand and a book protruding slightly from the pocket. Sepia has made his garments the same colour as his hair, as his mother's chaise longue in the background. The picture has shrivelled over the years. It has seen many mantelshelves; many boxes and cheap hotel rooms, the greenrooms, the flophouses, the pouches of a cardboard suitcase. There is a stiffness in how he holds himself, as one braving the firing squad in an opera, and the eyes, martyr-sad, are very slightly blurred, as though he blinked or was weeping at the moment the shutter was opened. But that would have been so unlike him.
A medieval Scottish ballad on an unseen wireless. You'd be grateful for the coming of morning. The slowplodding clop of the milkman's dray. Someone's motor car grumbles into life, a bicycle bell trills, and the phantoms recede into the wallpaper. You seem to see yourself at a distance, as a character in a story, perhaps. Miss O'Neill shivers at the table, drinks the acrid black tea. An offcut of linoleum serves raggedly as tablecloth; it is spotted with candle grease and cigarette burns. Here and there on its surface appears a crest of crossed rapiers with the motto FIDES ET ROBUR. She has twice been married, once widowed, once divorced. Her only son, an RAF pilot, was killed in the war, shot down over northern Germany, never found. It has been a long time indeed since she last played a leading role, since the palaces of Broadway rang with acclamation for her brilliance, but in whatever life those riotous ovations still echo, if they do, the ghost of a curtain still rises. One St Patrick's Night they stopped a train in Scranton, Pennsylvania, for the townspeople had somehow heard Molly Allgood was on board. Irish immigrant families. Weeping and cheering. Lofting children on their shoulders. An old miner kissing her hand. Coal dust under his fingernails. Withered shamrock in his cap. You peer at your bony knuckles, see the fossil of a bird's wing. Can they remember they were once kissed in Pennsylvania?
Mother of Christ Star of the Sea Hope of the wanderer Pray for me.
Somewhere in the room is a packet of old programmes all containing your name, but you wouldn't know where to find it among the clutter. Anyhow, the ones signed by the famous werelong ago sold, with whatever books were worth anything at all. There is a little bookshop in Russell Square where they specialise in autographs. A kindly widower, a Jew, shy and scholarly, is the proprietor. A Communist, so they say – he denies actual membership. He lost an arm in the Spanish Civil War.
Does the body remember? When the mind has forgotten? Does Mr Duglacz dream that he is whole again, a sweat-stained revolutionary? If he stretched to pull an orange in the soporific heat of a grove, or groped towards some Annamaria's scarlet, mournful mouth, would he see his vanished hand and weep? And if dreams unmask our longings, as the wise have claimed since the Greeks, why is it that the dead are so often silent when we dream them? Don't we want them to speak? What would they say? Does Mr Duglacz ever dream himself a baby?
He always paid cash, more than fairly at that, was glad to see you coming, offered tea or a small sherry, showed you volumes he had recently acquired at house clearances in the shires, was perhaps even a little flirtatious in the abashed way of old men as he fumbled among his broadsheets and foxed aquatints. ('This might interest you, Miss O'Neill, the binding is exquisite. Not everyone could appreciate it as you would.') But you have almost nothing left to offer him and no pretext for calling. It has been more than a year. You think of him sometimes. His embarrassed, touching courtesies and mild self-deprecations; his cheerfulness only grief turned brave. At moments he suddenly arises like a rumour of himself, or as a reminder of someone else: the man in the photograph on the mantelshelf. Anyhow, you are glad. All that is behind you now. 'Bloom where you are planted,' your mother used to say. 'When sorrow sours your milk, make cheese.'
Life abounds with blessings. To be alive – even that. For the chances against our existence are incalculable, overwhelming; it would mesmerise you even to start considering them. So many you knew are gone. And the billions never born. Nobody should be here. Yet we are. And it is all such a beautiful and strange adventure; who would forgo it only the mad or the broken? This afternoon you have an engagement at the British Broadcasting Corporation, a part in a radio adaptation of a play by Sean O'Casey, one of the many Irish playwrights you once counted among your friends. You have never liked the piece. There are few plays you truly like. You wonder where O'Casey is now.
He would be old, even more bitter. His sweat would taste like the wince-making tea: metallic, like blood, only stewed. They say he lives someplace on the south coast of England (Jaysus), is grown shrivelled with his hatreds, has been blind many years. He wears a skullcap and sea-boots and a filthy Aran sweater he stitched from dead critics' hair. A face like an elephant's bollock, one of the stagehands once chuckled, and that was neither today nor yesterday, God knows. Poor Johnnybags Casey and his harem of perceived slights. What must they make of him, the villagers and their children, as he shambles the fogs like a poisoned old dosser on his way to sign fraudulently at the Labour? A Friday night fight-starter. A slum boy translated. Has he friends? Does he drink? You cannot remember now. Is he still at this end of the plank at all? You picture him facing out on the storm-lashed breakwaters, raging at the raucous gulls.
— Napoleon the Third was exiled before dying in terrible agony on the south coast of England. Where a lot of people live in terrible agony.
'Let me alone,' you whisper. 'I am not able for you today.'
The breeze comes back crisply, fricative, falling away, like a saxophonist playing sub-tones, full of breath. The cat pads towards the window and utters a famished mraow. From the cement factory in Paddington Dock, the alleluia of a siren. Men will be making their way from the estates of west London. The wind rising cinders. Wives in their milky happiness. Still the middle of the night in Manhattan.
You have nothing to eat. There has been little for two days. The hunger is dizzying, now groaningly painful, like the feeling that used to assail you when about to menstruate. Kindly, he was then. A womanly solicitude. It is so cold that you consider dressing over your nightgown and vest, but for pity's sake, Molly, there must always be self-respect. You cannot dander about London knowing you are in a nightgown. It would be a nice pancake if you had an accident and they had to cart you to the hospital. Imagine if you died in the street, girl. Naked, shuddering, your soles on cold boards. Quickly now, Molls, fetch a drawers and a shift. Don't be minding the lack of curtains for there's nobody gawping, and a nice fright he'd get if he did. A woman stalks across your memory, a dresser once assigned to you on an American tour, an astonishingly elderly Irishwoman – people said she was a hundred – but her name will not come, is kept at bay by the cold. She'd be dead these many years, you realise now. Was it Mary she was called? Born in Galway.
You have a rudimentary wash at the sink – the lavatory on the upper landing cannot be faced in the mornings – and dress quickly, fumblingly, blaspheming the cold, in your old black blouse and chestnut lambswool twin-set, and run a brush nine times through your hair. How he drowned in my ringlets. His mouth in my curls. Gone to spiderweb now. Old scuttler. The blouse is a little shiny but it is a pre-war Worth; good couture will always last, and proper tailoring. Taking your ancient box of numbered powders, you apply pan-stick and face pack in the little cracked shaving-mirror you inherited with the room: 2j with 3, a fingertip of 13, and yellow for an Italian warmth. After powdering, you dust your temples and cheekbones with terracotta dry rouge, a touch on the end of the chin, carmine lips for youthfulness. As you work, it is your fancy to imagine scenes the mirror has observed. Can it remember the man who first bought it, used it? Perhaps poor Mr Holland, the scaffolder's mate from Belfast who died in the rusting single bed you lie awake in. You sometimes wear his stiffened boots. You inhale him in dust. For months after you took the room, men would call to visit him, and it fell to you to tell them of his passing. Yes indeed, very sad. No, I myself did not know him. I am afraid I have no address for the family. I believe there is a brother, a priest in Chicago. No, I did not find any hammer. He borrowed it, you say? I am sorry, sir, I cannot assist you.
You had tried to give it dignity, your role as breaker of sad tidings. And you were good at it: poised, neither melodramatic nor too blunt. And it was better than having no role at all. It was how you had first realised you had somehow become old, for nobody is as skilled in the imparting of bad news as an elderly woman from Ireland. Once or twice you had gone so far as to proffer tea or a consoling glass of something – 'I rarely myself drink, sir, but I happen to have a bottle in beyond at the moment, which I was saving as a gift for a gentleman colleague' – but the offer had never been accepted. Perhaps it was improper. Some of them had looked frightened as they left.
Excerpted from "Ghost Light"
Copyright © 2010 Joseph O'Connor.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 - A LODGING-HOUSE ROOM IN LONDON,
2 - BRICKFIELDS TERRACE,
3 - KINGSTOWN, A PROSPEROUS SUBURB OF DUBLIN 1908,
4 - RETURNING TO MISS O'NEILL IN LONDON ON THE DAY WE FIRST MET HER,
5 - A REHEARSAL AT THE ABBEY THEATRE, DUBLIN,
6 - A LETTER TO THE TIMES,
7 - INTERMISSION AT GLENCREE,
8 - THE THEATRE DISTRICT, LONDON,
9 - SCENE FROM A HALF-IMAGINED STAGE PLAY,
10 - APPROACHING BLOOMSBURY,
11 - ST MATTHEW'S CHURCH RUSSELL SQUARE,
12 - BROADCASTING HOUSE,
13 - PARK PRUETT MENTAL HOSPITAL HAMPSHIRE, ENGLAND,
14 - BROMPTON CEMETERY LONDON, ENGLAND,
Epilogue - OLD LETTER FOUND AMONG HER PAPERS, UNMAILED,
Also by Joseph O'Connor,
Acknowledgements and Caveat,
Reading Group Guide
1. How were you affected by the voice of the novel and its structure? O'Connor chooses not to tell the story in straight chronological order. What does he gain by unspooling Molly's memories in the course of a single day?
2. What portrait of Molly emerges in the opening scenes, as she copes with severe hunger while anticipating recording a radio play? How did your image of her change as you read about her marriages and the death of her son? What traces of her teenage personality remain to the end?
3. What were your initial impressions of John Synge? What fuels his attraction to Molly? What gives her the nerve to refuse his stage directions, despite the sixteen-year difference in their ages?
4. Synge's mother plays a pivotal role in his life and in his romance with Molly. Why is his mother so against Molly? Discuss your reactions to the scene where she meets Molly in person.
5. What is Molly's relationship with her sister Sara? What might account for Sara's greater wealth and Hollywood success?
6. How does O'Connor depict the Irish poet and founder of the Abbey Theatre W. B. Yeats? Does Yeats mentor Synge, or does Synge defy mentoring?
7. Discuss the novel's portrayal of the making of The Playboy of the Western World, which features an Irish farm boy called Christy Mahon, who glories in the belief that he has killed his father. Girls (including Pegeen Mike, played by Molly) find it attractive to hear him brag about this. Protestors rejected such a brutish portrayal of the Irish. What might have motivated Synge to create such an irreverent hero?
8. What did you think of Lady Augusta Gregory and her part in Synge and Molly's lives?
9. As Molly retraces her life, from her Irish girlhood to the awkward meeting about Synge's estate to her life on New York's Lower East Side and her impoverished final chapters in London, where does she feel most at home? Was she at home with Synge? What was the easiest role for her to play in life?
10. Synge blames illness and poverty for keeping him from marrying Molly. In some ways, did it help their commitment to have a lack of commitment (she breaks off the relationship more than once, yet she also asks for marriage)? Had he survived his illness, would he have eventually married Molly? If so, would it have been a happy marriage?
11. Despite the sadness of Molly's story, does she strike you as defiant and still in love with life? How does O'Connor manage this?
12. In the novel, is alcoholism a cause of Molly's suffering, or the reaction to her suffering? How did you respond when you read about her final tragedy? Why was it fitting to end not with an image of her hospitalization but with a vivacious love letter from the Changeling to her Tramp?
13. What did you discover about the nuances of Irish history and culture, including the role of a Protestant aristocracy, by reading this novel?
14. In his acknowledgments and caveat, the author reminds us that "certain biographers will want to beat me with a turf-shovel." O'Connor proceeds to tell us that letters featured in the novel are fictional, the chronology has been tinkered with, Synge and Molly did not holiday in Wicklow, and it's even possible that their romance was never consummated. Does historical fiction sometimes do a better job than biography in bringing the past to life? Do all biographies contain a dose of fiction?
15. Joseph O'Connor's best-known previous novels include Star of the Sea, depicting passengers crossing the Atlantic from Ireland to New York during the potato famine, and Redemption Falls, set during the U.S. Civil War. What themes of the human condition run through each of his novels, including Ghost Light? What makes his approach to history unique?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Joseph O'Connor is a brilliant writer who perfectly captures the spirit of his characters and their place and time. Is there something in the genetic makeup of the Irish that they express themselves so well? It takes courage and abundant talent for a scholar to create a fictional account of famous literary personalities. By the time I had finished I wanted to know more about the characters and looked forward to reading more by this author.
Molly Allgood O'Neill is a cranky old woman, weakened by extreme poverty and loneliness. An aging actress, she makes her way across London to one of the few jobs she can find-as a voice actress. Throughout her journey, she spends her time remembering the long ago affair she carried on with the Irish playwright, John Synge. In her memory Synge as well as the legendary Yeats come to life, and through her memories she gains a bit of vitality-all while so malnourished she can barely walk. Her memory is detailed, and with equal parts humor and bitterness, she reflects on aging, competing with her sister, and the complicated socially-unbalanced relationship she had with Synge. His being of wealth and fame, and her poor urban upbringing, dooms their affair from the start. His mother will not consider him marrying her as beneath their social level. Molly's sister too objects to the relationship, denying its reality. The Dublin theatre, and everything made up and false, becomes a key to understanding their attraction to each other as well as their eventual distance. Molly is at her best when she's thinking aloud. The author, Joseph O'Connor, presents her as a tough old bird who dismisses those beneath her, yet still partaking of their charity towards her. Especially touching is a local bartender who spots her a free drink on occasion, as well as a bit of food. They both keep up the pretense that she's a wealthy old actress, when without him she'd likely starve. In her small apartment, she's down to living with that which can't be burnt for warmth. Hunger grates at her, and makes her memories that much more painful. She laments aging and her habit of talking to herself: "And getting up earlier. Another symptom, that. What young person ever got up at dawn out of choice? And talking to the wireless. And talking to the rain. And talking to dogs and to flowers in people's gardens. And talking to clothes that don't fit you any more and to dishes that need washing but haven't been washed..and whoever puts the zips in the back of women's dresses, a presumption, if ever there was one, that every woman is married." Her observations of the London neighborhood are sardonic and 'cheeky'. One man that looks at her a bit too long gets her riled: "So turn the other cheek if you don't like the look of me, and kiss my arse like it owes you the rent." The name of the novel comes from a theatre tradition: "An ancient superstition among people of the stage. One lamp must always be left burning when the theatre is dark, so the ghosts can perform their own plays." The significance is obvious: she's still alive while her peers are dead, yet who remain as alive in her memories. As a character study, it's fascinating. Seeing the character change as she observes Synge's illness, and her reaction to the gossip about her is subtle-the author doesn't tell us how she's changed but shows us instead. A few times I thought the theatre scenes, where Synge and Yeats interact, ran a bit long (I sort of scanned those pages). Perhaps if I knew more of their actual history I'd have been more interested. The other thing that unsettled me was the ending. The book proceeded to a point that I expected it to end, it would have been perfect (to me), yet a new development occurred that continued it a short while longer. That put me off-track a bit, and it was hard to reconnect after what seemed like the obvious ending.
Molly Allgood O¿Neill is a cranky old woman, weakened by extreme poverty and loneliness. An aging actress, she makes her way across London to one of the few jobs she can find-as a voice actress. Throughout her journey, she spends her time remembering the long ago affair she carried on with the Irish playwright, John Synge. In her memory Synge as well as the legendary Yeats come to life, and through her memories she gains a bit of vitality-all while so malnourished she can barely walk.Her memory is detailed, and with equal parts humor and bitterness, she reflects on aging, competing with her sister, and the complicated socially-unbalanced relationship she had with Synge. His being of wealth and fame, and her poor urban upbringing, dooms their affair from the start. His mother will not consider him marrying her as beneath their social level. Molly¿s sister too objects to the relationship, denying its reality. The Dublin theatre, and everything made up and false, becomes a key to understanding their attraction to each other as well as their eventual distance.Molly is at her best when she¿s thinking aloud. The author, Joseph O¿Connor, presents her as a tough old bird who dismisses those beneath her, yet still partaking of their charity towards her. Especially touching is a local bartender who spots her a free drink on occasion, as well as a bit of food. They both keep up the pretense that she's a wealthy old actress, when without him she'd likely starve. In her small apartment, she¿s down to living with that which can¿t be burnt for warmth. Hunger grates at her, and makes her memories that much more painful. She laments aging and her habit of talking to herself: ¿And getting up earlier. Another symptom, that. What young person ever got up at dawn out of choice? And talking to the wireless. And talking to the rain. And talking to dogs and to flowers in people¿s gardens. And talking to clothes that don¿t fit you any more and to dishes that need washing but haven¿t been washed¿.and whoever puts the zips in the back of women¿s dresses, a presumption, if ever there was one, that every woman is married¿¿Her observations of the London neighborhood are sardonic and `cheeky¿. One man that looks at her a bit too long gets her riled: ¿So turn the other cheek if you don¿t like the look of me, and kiss my arse like it owes you the rent.¿ The name of the novel comes from a theatre tradition: ¿An ancient superstition among people of the stage. One lamp must always be left burning when the theatre is dark, so the ghosts can perform their own plays.¿ The significance is obvious: she¿s still alive while her peers are dead, yet who remain as alive in her memories.As a character study, it¿s fascinating. Seeing the character change as she observes Synge¿s illness, and her reaction to the gossip about her is subtle-the author doesn¿t tell us how she¿s changed but shows us instead. A few times I thought the theatre scenes, where Synge and Yeats interact, ran a bit long (I sort of scanned those pages). Perhaps if I knew more of their actual history I¿d have been more interested. The other thing that unsettled me was the ending. The book proceeded to a point that I expected it to end, it would have been perfect (to me), yet a new development occurred that continued it a short while longer. That put me off-track a bit, and it was hard to reconnect after what seemed like the obvious ending.I could actually see this becoming a movie-there's enough action and drama that would go well with the Dublin and London period costumes. I'd actually like to cast it: Cate Blanchett as Molly, Viggo Mortensen as Synge, and Liam Neeson as Yeats. That'd work.
Ghost Light has been a slow read. This quintessentially Irish story of love between Molly, a catholic actress off the streets of Dublin, and the innovative protestant gentry playwright, Synge, is set in the early twentieth century when the stage was not a suitable profession for male or female. Both lovers are historically true but O'Connor has imagined most of the story and action. In reality, while they became engaged before his premature death, their relationship was probably not as close as O'Connor suggests.The novel covers a day in the life of the aged and bibulous Molly as she crosses London for her last acting job. The story jumps all over the place - an inn or a bookshop in London, a theatre in Dublin or New York, a train in America or is it England? - as Molly's memory focuses then fades. She recalls their early relationship, their friends in the Irish theatre, times in America and their rupture. The first section in the second person point of view conveys the murmurings of the old woman eking out a life alone in the slums of London. Joseph O'Connor writes lyrically but not economically. The plot is lost in thickets of description and the pace slows to a snail's pace in many sections. I read several other books while I read Ghost Light but am glad I persevered because it is a beautiful, sad and evocative work.
A heartbreaking and occasionally hilarious love story, Ghost Light is a beautiful evocation of the power of private memory. I did not want it to end. Fine writing by one of the best novelists of our time.
I fell in love with Molly. Very well written. I plan to read more by Joseph O'Connor.
The writing is not flowing well for me, ... just started reading this book and I want to see it through for a charming story, but not finding that out yet!