This debut work of “creative nonfiction” relates an Irish entrepreneur’s tumultuous professional and personal life.
The author opens with an ingenious framing device: he has just received an email from his estranged adult daughter. Her brief, polite message asks a simple question: “why did you leave me?” The narrative that follows is his detailed response, relating his life before and after his separation from his children. The son of a film projectionist and a factory worker, he fights his way to the upper echelons of the software industry and ultimately becomes a multimillionaire. His strategies are gutsy, and his distinctive personality is his greatest asset: he’s forceful, driven, occasionally oblivious, and very funny. In addition to his business triumphs and defeats, he goes through two marriages, the births of multiple children, a battle with cancer, and the loss of his father. His tale is also loaded with humorous tales that cover everything from a bacchanalian trip to South Africa to his own man-hating dog. Throughout all of these accounts he shines as an eminently charming narrator. However, his characterization of himself overshadows that of most other figures. His relationships with his employees, for example, are never fully developed in the text, which means that his business endeavors often become a blur of names and anecdotes rather than fully engaging dramatic scenes. This tendency is especially problematic when he mentions Maria, his daughter’s mother; their marriage seems troubled, yet the author barely describes Maria herself, who’s so fundamental to his explanation of how he exited his daughter’s life. This relatively short book covers so much ground—so many escapades, business gambles, friends, colleagues, lovers, and enemies—that it often isn’t able to slow down enough to let readers inside the relationships that shape the author’s life. This is not to say that his story lacks emotional resonance; Donnelly movingly renders his pain over the loss of his father, his self-blame regarding his estrangement from his children, and his battle with cancer.
An account of a compelling man whose life story merits a longer, more in-depth telling.