Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor

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Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Louise Laurie
Reviewed by Louise Laurie
Summary: This novel centres around a complex love story. The two worlds of working-class actress Molly and intellectual playwright John Synge collide creating far-reaching ripple effects on their personal and working lives alike.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: June 2010
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-0436205712

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An unknown voice introduces the reader to actress Molly. She doesn't know it but she will be dead fairly soon. It's almost as if she's talking to herself throughout the introduction pages. The language is Irish vernacular so there's lots of good old Irish put-downs, classic descriptions and call-a-spade-a-shovel language. This richness and unmistakable lilt gives the reader a sense of place. Albeit, old Molly is almost living by her wits (which are varied and considerable) in the poorer areas of London. Her conversations with the local people, whether it's the inn-keeper or the local bobby on the beat are absolutely wonderful. She is one fine actress. I could not keep the smile from my face when reading these conversational gems. For example, Molly is trying to have a polite conversation with the inn-keeper Mr Ballantine when they are rudely interrupted Men barrel in and out with their swearing and gruffness ... Why can they never sit easy, must they always emit noises, and must the noises be deafening vowels? Brilliant. The sheer beauty in all of this is that Molly, in her own private thoughts, in her own head, is giving off the most foul language of the lot of them. These conversations are also bitter-sweet. O'Connor's descriptions - especially of people are superlative. He doesn't try too hard (which is a gift in itself) but gets his message over to the reader.

O'Connor paints us an evocative landscape on her abject poverty and burnt-out life. But astonishingly, she appears to have some will to keep going. So she hauls herself out of bed, throws on some rags, puts her best foot forward and it's out into the streets of London with a smile on her face. Once an actress, always an actress.

Her lover, John, is the extreme opposite. He is a timid, older man with a flowery way of speaking in his posh accent. He is also very modest and seems to understand the lower classes. Not so his snooty mother. Molly and John have to meet in secret. No one must know of their liaisons. I think Molly might approve of that last word.

The staccato, stiff dialogue between mother and son is a joy to read. It's priceless. As well as what's being said in testy bristling words, you get a strong sense of what's being left out - of what's too painful to say. Wonderful stuff. Likewise there's a stunning piece involving the cast and a difference of opinion, shall we say, with the producer. Twenty four carat gold. I could read it over and over again and not tire of it and I don't say that too often. The whole novel just seemed to hit the right spot for me.

But I must admit to feeling Molly's overall sadness. Of her life and perhaps what might have been. To give one illustration of her numerous disappointments, she'll be the lead actress in one of John's plays but he'll be absent, he'll be too ill to attend. His health is delicate to say the least. His ill-health takes its toll on both of them, but in different ways.

I'm going to gush for the final time. About two thirds through the novel, there's a longish piece entitled Scene From A Half-Imagined Stage Play It is absolutely terrific. A finer piece of tragi-comic writing would be hard to find, in my opinion. It is both down-to-earth and very, very funny. O'Connor has written a tour de force. Highly recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then try Brooklyn by Colm Toibin.

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Buy Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor at


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