GHOST LIGHT by Joseph O'Connor
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An impassioned tribute to the actress who secretly loved and outlived Irish playwright J.M. Synge.

Bestselling Irish author O’Connor (Redemption Falls, 2007, etc.) divides his powerfully imagined, poetic narrative between two eras and cities, Dublin in 1908 and London in 1952. Molly Allgood (stage name Maire O’Neill), central to both, is 65 in the London episode, a half-starved alcoholic dependent on begging, selling off her remaining scraps and a bit of acting to survive. Her salty stream of consciousness is narrated in the second person, lending an additional layer of self-consciousness to the meticulously composed prose. The earlier, third-person Irish sections mix love of landscape with scenes from the unsuitable secret engagement between the beautiful but less well-educated 18-year-old Molly and the older, ailing playwright, a liaison disapproved of on all sides. In Synge’s most celebrated yet scandalous play, The Playboy of the Western World, Molly plays her greatest role, Pegeen Mike, “a woman who loves a storyteller and loses him too soon” as Molly does when Synge dies at 37 of Hodgkin’s disease. O’Connor’s impressionistic, intense style delivers a mismatched love story and a social landscape dominated by forceful characters such as W.B. Yeats and Synge’s formidable mother, but it is Molly’s perspective which prevails, the voice of a comical, intuitive, irrepressible life force.

An empathetic act of literary homage offering nuggets of emotional intensity.

Pub Date: Feb. 8th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-374-16187-3
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2010


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