In the spring of 2004, my husband and I spent two weeks in Ireland. As always, I read books by Irish writers before I went. Nuala O'Faolain was an author on my list who was new to me. I read three of her books before I went, all of which gave me such a strong sense of place and Irish life and especially Irish women.
Nuala O'Faolain passed away about a week and a half ago. She died of lung cancer and according to one article I read she was extremely bummed that she was not going to live longer. Well I don't blame her and I will miss any books she did not get to write.
I did not have this blog in 2004, so now I will post what I wrote about her books back then.
Are You Somebody?, Nuala O'Faolain, Henry Holt and Company, 1996, 215 pp
Her first book is a memoir. Nuala had been a writer for the Irish Times (and other papers) when she began writing this book. The title comes from what people would say when they met her, not being sure but feeling that she looked familiar. The original writing was intended to be an introduction to a collection of her articles and grew into her life story.
She was my age when she wrote it and I suppose it is a cliche to want to write up your life after you pass 50. I have that urge myself. A life story is a fascinating thing. I love reading them and having new friends tell me theirs. She is a fine writer with a wry voice and had a rocky but generally triumphant life. Because she broke out of the traditional role for an Irish woman, she has been lonely. Well, lots of traditional women are lonely too. She also had a lot of fun and many adventures. Still she was looking for love, above all else.
Almost There, Nuala O'Faolain, Penguin Putnam Inc, 2003, 275 pp
This is her follow-up memoir, which I went right into after finishing the first. They both read very quickly. Meanwhile, she wrote a novel, which I read next. This volume is basically more of the same, her continuing self-discovery, her continuing search for love, which she found and then had new issues to deal with.
She had received so many letters after the first memoir, that she wanted to let her readers know that she finally found and settled down with a good man. She moved to New York and built a great life there full of writing, writers and friends. In fact, I learned a lot about writing from this book as well.
My Dream of You, Nuala O'Faolain, Penguin Putnam Inc, 2001, 500 pp
This is her novel. It read very much the same as the memoirs and is taken mostly from her life, but has the device of another story from the days of the potato famine worked in. That adds a bit of historical fiction.
Her characters are great and so are her descriptions of places. She also writes good sex. The story is about her search for love and passion. Funny, because she was unloved as a child and she read so many books. I think, like most women who read a lot, she formed her ideas of romantic love from fiction. That is a bum deal because life is not like that, so it is a constructed ideal that few people ever find. Yet it has been THE STORY since earliest times.
Nuala O'Faolain wrote one other book that I know of. The Story of Chicago May is a biography of a turn-of -the-century feminist also known as queen of the crooks, another daughter of Ireland, an outlaw and an unrepentant, independent woman. I haven't read this book yet, but I saw Nuala give a reading and answer questions at the Duttons Books in Brentwood, CA, early in its brief existence. She was astoundingly wonderful in her feistiness and straightforwardness. She had that gift of extemporaneous storytelling that is a characteristic of the Irish people. Now I must go read that book.