Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor
purchased from Kennys Bookshop
Summary from Goodreads:
Dublin 1907, a city of whispered rumours. An actress still in her teens begins an affair with a damaged older man, the leading playwright at the theatre where she works. Rebellious, irreverent, beautiful, flirtatious, Molly Allgood is a girl of the inner city tenements, dreaming of stardom in America. Witty and watchful, she has dozens of admirers. But in the backstage of her life, there is a secret. Her lover, John Synge, is a troubled, reticent genius, the son of a once prosperous landowning family, a poet of fiery language and tempestuous passions. Yet his life is hampered by Edwardian conventions and by the austere and God-fearing mother with whom he lives. Scarred by a childhood of immense loneliness and severity he has long been ill , but he loves to walk the wild places of Ireland. The affair, sternly opposed by friends and family, is turbulent, sometimes cruel, often tender. Many years later, an old woman makes her way across London on a morning after it has been struck by a hurricane. Christmas is coming. As she wanders past bombsites and through the forlorn beauty of wrecked terraces and wintry parks, a snowdrift of memories and lost desires seems to swirl. She has twice been married: once widowed, once divorced, but an unquenchable passion for life has kept her afloat as her dazzling career has faded. A story of love's commitment, of partings and reconciliations, of the courage involved in living on nobody else's terms, "Ghost Light" is a profoundly moving and finally uplifting novel from the award-winning author of "Star of the Sea" and "Redemption Falls". Full of exhilarating language and unforgettable characters, it is a homage to the act of storytelling itself.
I really enjoyed this story about Molly Allgood, an Irish actress also known as Maire O'Neill. This is a fictionalized story about her life and her relationship with playwright John Synge. At the beginning I had a bit of trouble determining what was going on because some of the chapters don't give the year, just the day or time. But after awhile, I got into the flow of the story and could anticipate and/or easily determine which time period was being written about. The story flows back and forth between London in 1952 where Molly is an old woman living alone in poverty with a reputation in the neighborhood as a drunk. This is a heartbreaking picture of the fate of the vibrant, pretty, Irish girl who wants to be an actress. At first I was annoyed by the way the story switched back and forth, but then, I decided that it was symbolic of her aging mind and how her memories were still vibrant and her present reality wasn't as pleasant as her past. Also, I thought it was illustrative of how older minds don't seem to differentiate as much between past and present.
This is a pretty sad story, in my opinion. Molly had plans and ambitions and was supposed to marry Synge. But due to their family's disapproval and various other hindrances, they were not able to marry before he died. Molly did become somewhat famous in her time, but her life never seemed to live up to her ambitions. She looks back on her life and her decisions and has to come to terms with what has happened. As with most Irish literature I've read so far, there really isn't a happy ending. However, I did enjoy the story. It is very well written and once I let myself engage with the story, it was hard to put the book down.