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Ghost Light Hardcover – Feb 1 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 246 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux (Feb. 1 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374161879
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374161873
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 14.6 x 2.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #816,787 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon.com: 29 reviews
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
"One lamp must always be left burning..." Feb. 4 2011
By Evelyn A. Getchell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Ghost Light: A Novel is a transcendent experience, a radiant love story which speaks of a passion that shimmers in ghost light, "An ancient superstition among people of the stage. One lamp must always be left burning when the theatre is dark, so the ghosts can perform their own plays."

Joseph O'Connor with a virtuosic, literary master stroke has melded fact with fiction in this captivating tribute to love ~ the story of Irish playwright J M Synge and his lover Molly Allgood, the Irish actress with the stage name of Maire O'Neill. This beautiful novel of Irish lore and lyricism has given me hours and hours of pure reading pleasure. Ghost Light: A Novel is so stunning that I found myself rereading paragraphs or entire pages over and over again just to revel in literary excellence.

When I come across a book like this in which I am particularly captivated, I mark certain pages that I want to reread again later with little slips of paper. When I finished this book, I had to laugh at myself because practically all of its pages have little slips of paper sticking out between them! This is one of those rare books where one can open up to any page and find the most extraordinary language, imagery, metaphor, or a passage or phrase that will transport one to another time, another place. For many of these remarkable qualities I am reminded of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf and I know that this book is of those great traditions and deserves to be read again and again.

Yet it is not a book for everybody. Many will not appreciate the stream of consciousness narrative. Some will feel bogged down by the meanderings or recursions back and forth among the 50 years of time or setting which skips from Dublin to London to America. But if one approaches Ghost Light: A Novel with a willingness to surrender to the magic of its fractured narrative, a richly rewarding experience can be had.

The novel opens in a dodgy London boarding house in a seedy neighborhood of 1952, not long after dawn when the elderly, hung-over Molly is reviewing her past and facing yet another lonely day in her old age. In Molly's stream of consciousness voice: "You are sixty-five now," is said in the second person narrative which O'Connor brilliantly uses throughout the novel to bring the reader closer to Molly ~ you are her, she is you, or "you" can be Molly speaking to herself, or "you" is Synge being addressed to by Molly. Other times Molly's stream of thoughts shifts into a more usual third person narrative to evoke raptures of the past or to the first person to represent the drifting of Molly's consciousness, all bringing her entire life into the capsule of one day near the end of her life. It's O'Connor's genius to use this technique of flexible narrative voice ~ the effect produces both intimacy and distancing at the same time.

Living alone except for the ghostly presence of her lover Synge, the man with "martyr-sad eyes" who died so long ago, Molly tells a story with a mind that is rich in literary allusion. In fact, Molly has so much literature in her ~ Irish songs, poems, plays ~ that Synge's imagination was fed by Molly. Young Molly, as O'Connor envisions her, is a charming and playful heroine, a pretty, robust and intelligent fledgling actress who fell in love with the much older playwright whom she first met at the Abby Theatre in Dublin. Molly was totally committed to the well being of her gloomy, difficult and chronically ill lover, although in truth everything was against their relationship: the age gap, differences in class and religion, family hostilities, professional disapproval from the theatre, Synge's ill health. Yet they were drawn to each other and Molly loved him fiercely. She loved him for what he was, a man who would lose himself in himself, but whom she could draw out and inspire. She was his lover and his muse and theirs was a great love story.

Now, Molly ~ elderly, drunken, poverty stricken, alone and in the last days of her life, remembers Synge... not her two husbands, but her first love, her "Tramp", her Johnny Synge. Her mind drifts in and out of reverie, back to a now vanished Dublin and Wicklow where Molly and Synge carried out their affectionate but quarrelsome relationship. Back in the now as she shambles alone through the streets of bombed-scarred London, making her way to the BBC for what will be her final performance, she proceeds with the same trained deportment, the same courage and dignity that she has always gathered in the face of her trials and challenges. After all, the show must go on.

O'Connor closes the book with a beautiful heartfelt letter that Molly wrote to Synge but never sent. It was found among her papers after her death. The letter is an expression of Molly's heart, a sentiment which is charming and soulful and a most fitting way to end a story about a great love between a playwright and his muse.

I love this book dearly and rank it high among my favorite works of Irish literature.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
A Novel of Grand Scope and Beauty Jan. 23 2011
By Bonnie Brody - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor is a brilliant and complex book. It is one of the best books I have read in the last five years. The language is poetic and hallucinatory and this is a book where one can't skip passages or lines. Every word is necessary and the whole is a gift put together with the greatest care and love.

The novel is about a grand love affair between Molly Allgood, an actress (stage name Maire O'Neill) and the playwright John Synge, most well-known for his play, Playboy of the Western World. The book starts out in 1952 on the streets of post-war London. Molly, 67 years old, is walking the cold blustery city and freezing. She lives in a hovel and drinks too much. She is hungry and cold, going from one sheltered spot to another and hallucinating from the the alcohol, her hunger and her freezing. She is on her way to a BBC radio reading and on her way she remembers, in broken dream sequences, her relationship with John Synge.

Molly and John Synge had an affair and at the time of their affair she was eighteen years old and he was thirty-six. John was very ill, most likely with lymphoma but perhaps tuberculosis or some other lung disease. He had one neck surgery after another. He lived only two years after they met. They came from opposite sides of the tracks. Molly was an actress who was from a mixed marriage - protestant and catholic - and she worked with her mother in a drapery shop. John came from old money and was of protestant background. He had a symbiotic relationship with his mother which made his relationship with Molly doomed from the start as his mother would not permit him to bring Molly home and threatened to cut off his trust fund should he marry her.

The book goes back and forth in time from 1952 London to 1905 Dublin where Molly and John were involved in a theater group. John was the resident playwright for William Yeats and the Grand Dame of the theater was Lady Augusta Gregory. Molly was an actress in the theater troupe. In those days it was very risqué for women to act.

Molly and John had to keep their affair a secret because John was terribly afraid of anyone finding out. He and Molly met on trains and traveled to Wicklow together for a vacation but acted like they did not know one another in Dublin. The affair was tender and poignant. John was very ill and the marriage was doomed from the start, never to be realized. They remained engaged until John's death. John called Molly his Pegeen, his Changeling girl.

We travel with Molly to the United States where she acted after John's death. She recollects the plays she was in and the popularity she had. She ended up marrying a philandering husband and had two children, a son who died during World War II and a daughter from whom she is semi-estranged because she can not get along with her son-in-law.

The novel contains imagined letters and real letters between the two lovers and hallucinatory memories from Molly's desperate mind as she tries to stay alive despite the difficult circumstances she finds herself in. My favorite parts of the novel are when it travels to 1905 and the reader gets to participate in the acting troupe with the great Synge and Yeats.

Parts of this novel are true and other parts are fictional according to Mr. O'Connor. Mr. O'Connor grew up in Dublin near the Synge house and was fascinated by the playwright's life. This novel is the outcome of his fascination. In some ways it reminded me of the poetic beauty of Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin. Sense of place is very important. This is a novel with grand scope and great beauty, one that will not be forgotten by any lover of literature.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
EXQUISITE! Jan. 12 2011
By Charlotte Vale-Allen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This is one of the most beautifully written and well-conceived novels I've read in a very, very long time. This not a quick fast-paced item nowadays called "a read." It is an honest-to-goodness book. It cannot be skimmed, constructed as it is with a glorious use of language that is sheer pleasure, along with characters so intimately crafted that it is actually wrenching to come to the end and be separated from both the writing and the people. For those who aren't in a tearing hurry to get through the next item on their bedside reading stack, this is a dream of a book. I am still marveling over the wealth of detail, past and present, all of it stemming from the mind of a touching, irritating, fully realized, funny, rude, gifted and good-hearted, utterly remarkable woman. Don't miss this! This is a keeper, a book to be reread. Most highly recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The structure of the novel is reminiscent of Joyce's Ulysses July 1 2012
By Beth Quinn Barnard - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Although Ghost Light is a novel, Joseph O'Connor's protagonist Molly Allgood was a real woman, a Roman Catholic actress from the Dublin slums who was the muse and fiance of affluent Protestant playwright John Millington Synge in the first decade of the 20th century. Synge was a founder of Dublin's Abbey Theatre and a prominent member of the literary set that advocated a new Irish art based on the experiences of Ireland's peasants and their folk tales. He wrote the part of Pegeen Mike for her in The Playboy of the Western World, a play set on the west of Ireland that sparked riots in Dublin because of its coarse language and realistic themes that some spectators felt demeaned Ireland and Irish women. O'Connor begins his story with an aged Molly eking out a mean existence in a London still freshly scarred by the bombings of World War II. Still an actress, the majority of the book recounts a single day in the 1950s as she travels across London to a job performing in a radio drama for the BBC. Along the way, she visits a variety of shops, and those stops reveal her to be an alcoholic who lives on the edge of starvation, something she fends off by selling off one-by-one her few remaining mementos of Synge. Molly's travels through London are interspersed with frequent flashbacks to 1905, the year she met and fell in love with Synge. Neither of their families approved of the match between Allgood and Synge, but they managed to snatch some happiness together despite being surrounded by heavy and heavy-handed disapproval. The structure of the novel is reminiscent of Joyce's Ulysses, and the story proceeds at a similarly slow pace in dense but vigorous prose. In many ways, Molly is a cranky old lady, but time and again she reveals a truly generous heart, which is why I enjoyed this sad story.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Literary and Luscious Jan. 29 2011
By Jill I. Shtulman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Joseph O'Connor has fashioned a marvelous novel, a reimaging of the love affair of John Millington Synge - the famous playwright of Playboy of the Western World and other fine works - and the younger, less well-stationed Molly Allgood, who performed under the name of Maire O'Neill.

"Certain biographers will want to beat me with a turf shovel," O'Connor states in his aftermath. Indeed, in reading that aftermath, this is not the book for those who are seeking a historically-correct look into these principals. It is definitely fiction.

But what fiction it is! It sings, glows, and at times, reads like sheer poetry. There are hints of James Joyce in the stream-of-consciousness. It all flows from the title Ghost Light, which O'Connor defines later in the book, "An ancient superstition among people of the stage. One lamp must always be left burning when the theatre is dark, so the ghosts can perform their own play."

And within the confines of this novel, these "ghosts" definitely do. The "play" begins in 1952; Molly, now quite old and penurious, is in London where is to record a radio play for the BBC studios. There, in an alcoholic haze, she muses upon the highlights of her life: as an actress at Abbey Theatre of Dublin, her acquaintance with Yeats, and most of all, her love affair with the much-older John M. Synge.

She remembers that Synge was "a man who could see into things - very ordinary things...His imagination, or soul, or whatever province of his mind was hungry for the sustaining rain of the world, would soak in the storms of his own haunted strangeness, and the berries would bloom, and they were what they were, and if the tendrils were peculiar, and some of them wild, the fruits were so shockingly luscious and potent that the thirsty were willing to savour the bitter for the sake of the concomitant sweet."

Ah, poetry! By using the documented framework of Synge - his ascension to the top of his craft, his complicated relationship with his widowed mother (who strongly disapproved of his "liaison"), his engagement to Molly, his early death at age 37 - Mr. O'Connor expands his story, weaving fiction in with the fact. His portrayal of Molly - playful, wayward, with a spirited independence - is sublime. And then, Mr. O'Connor goes further, also weaving some highlights of the Abbey Theatre and the cruelty of class-consciousness into his tapestry. A most amazing book - and very recommended by this reader.

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