Project O’Faolain

Last year, I’d been deeply impressed by Verbivore’s plan to read all Gordimer (and to actually follow suit – I may draw such a plan, but I never take it to the end), and recently I ambitiously declared that I was following every novel published by Siri Hustvedt. (or am I? The Sorrows of an American is in my wishlist, but I have yet to get and read it).That’s how I got to think about authors I’d like to read in full.

I have no high ambition of reading all Proust, or all Zola (a daunting project considering he was paid by the page and so knew no limit to his outpouring), but there are a few contemporary authors I wish to follow. Like when you have remote cousins or acquaintances, not very close ones, but you still want to know how their career evolves, or how their family is doing over the years. Don’t you wish to see how a person develops from book to book? Because I think that when a writer finishes a book, it’s the best he can at this point of his/her life, but then what about a few years later?

Nuala O’Faolain is a writer for whom fiction and autobiography intimately mix together. I discovered her two years ago with The Story of Chicago May, and continued early last year with My Dream of You, until I was shocked to learn that she’d died last May. I understood she was a famous person in Ireland, but her fame hasn’t really reached France. As I was researching for this post and this project, I learnt about the dignified way she chose to confront her terminal cancer sentence, and I find it really, really courageous: refusing chemo, she chose instead to travel with a few friends across Europe to see major cultural landmarks a last time.

In both books, two story levels develop concurrently, back and forth: a contemporary middle-aged Irish woman who could well be O’Faolain, and a fictionalized character taken out of Irish (or Irish-American) local history. I thought the contemporary character particularly endearing, because she was candid about ageing, sexuality, loneliness, and life hardships in general, without dwelling on the sordid side (I dreaded something like Angela’s Ashes). I wish I could hear more of this particular voice.

My plan is to read her two autobiographies: “Are You Somebody? The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman”, published in 1996 and “Almost There: The Onward Journey of a Dublin Woman” published in 2003. A posthumous novel “Best Love Rosie” was also published late last year in French by one of my favorite publishing houses, Sabine Wespieser’s.


4 thoughts on “Project O’Faolain

  1. This is great because I love discovering new writers – I’ve never heard of her, so will be very interested to see you work through this project. Perhaps you can give a suggestion of a good place to start with her work.

  2. I read My Dream of You a long time ago, but I think it was the wrong book for me at the wrong time. I think I wasn’t at the right age to appreciate it. I have her autobiography that I would like to read. I also read an interview with her before she died that was absolutely heart wrenching. I look forward to your project–you’ll have to share how you get on with it!

  3. BLily, I wish she’d had time to write a lot more fiction! I mooched both biographies, but the second part arrived first 🙂

    Verbivore, it all depends of your age, but I’d say My dream of you would be the best.

    Danielle, I totally agree with your appreciation. I certainly wouldn’t have appreciated My dream of you in my twenties, for example. But The story of Chicago May is another interesting piece with some common themes. I’ll keep you posted about the project!

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