Author: Joseph O’Connor.
This period piece comes from Joseph O’Connor, the holder of the Frank McCourt Chair in Creative Writing at the University of Limerick for 2015. I had to read it as part of my Contemporary Irish Literature class. The novel is set in the early 1900’s during the time of the Irish Literary Revival. It tells the story of the romance between Irish actress Molly Allgood and playwright John M. Synge. It follows their affair and the stage production of Playboy of the Western World. Even Yeats makes an appearance. The novel switches between Dublin and London, where Molly in her old age is living a less than glamorous life of isolation.
As you can tell, it’s steeped in Irish literary history. It’s a novel that highlights the importance of this time and the significance of the figures during this period. It adds some poetic licence with the drama of Molly and John’s romance. The settings are well written. We get a glimpse at the Abbey Theatre and parts of Dublin and London.
Personally, it didn’t really engage me. It pains me to say that because I’ve had a few lectures with Joseph. It’s well written but it wouldn’t be the type of subject that interests me. If you have an interest in the Irish Literary Revival then fire away. I have the greatest of respect and reverence for the figures of that time and the work that was produced, but I think there is a major problem in the culture of contemporary Irish Literature in that a lot of Irish writers are stuck in the past. They feel shadowed by the great figures of the past and feel that they have to discuss the Revival. Ghostlight unfortunately falls into this category.
It is a perfectly fine, well written period piece that is aimed at readers interested in the Revival. But for a contemporary Irish novel, it doesn’t engage with modern subjects or political and social issues. I don’t mean to rant and this isn’t aimed at Ghostlight specifically but I feel like certain Irish novels being produced today aren’t exciting or engaging. They are nostalgic pieces that are constantly looking towards the past. I only say this because there are Irish writers in Ireland, and abroad, who are writing magnificent, exciting work that is being internationally renowned. These works are dealing with modern social and political issues and speak about subjects that the public actually care about in terms of gender, race, sexuality, politics, etc.
All in all, Ghostlight is a good novel, but it just doesn’t excite me like other contemporary Irish novels.