Nuala O’Faolain, 68, Irish Memoirist, Is Dead*

Some years ago when I still worked in the corporate world, I was driving home from my job listening to NPR. It was late (yes: I worked late too frequently, even then) and they were running an interview with Nuala O’Faolain. She had just turned sixty, and the interview had to do with the paperback reissue of her first novel, My Dream of You.

Her protagonist, Kathleen de Burca, is an older woman who unexpectedly falls in love after having given up on that ever happening. There is much, much more that goes on in this layered and nuanced novel (I loved it), but the radio interviewer headed down that older-love path, as many of Kathleen’s details seemed to echo O’Faolain’s personal life.

In this interview O’Faolain said (I’m paraphrasing) that as she had begun aging, she’d been essentially written off by younger people. They think I’ve given up “all that,” she said (meaning wild, passionate emotional and physical love), but I haven’t. I still long for “the Other.”

At the time, her words struck me right through the heart (I’d been divorced and alone for some time) and there I was, driving down the highway, sobbing like a baby. But this was her gift: as a writer and speaker she is unsentimental, painfully honest, eloquent in that way the Irish are—and sees right to the heart of the matter.

I’d never heard of her before that night (in Ireland she was a household name) but I went to the bookstore the very next day and bought My Dream of You. After that I read Are You Somebody?: The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman and later her second memoir, Almost There: The Onward Journey of a Dublin Woman. I was moved, always, by what this woman had to say.

When I stumbled on the headline above, then, you can imagine my sorrow. I’d felt like I knew her! Less than a month before she died she did a sad but unblinking radio interview about her impending death. It was a sensation in Ireland. (You can read it here or listen to it here. It’s really good for seeing / hearing the rhythm of her Irish way of speaking, if you are interested in that sort of thing, as I am.) “It must look as if I’m an awful divil for publicity altogether,” she said.

Perhaps. But even now, her writing deserves your attention. Have a look. Let me know what you think.

*This headline is four years old; it’s from a story in the New York Times dated 11 May 2008.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Jamie… I loved the memoirs when I read them years ago, and while her life perspective was so different than mine, her way with words and “turn of a phrase” was often so beautiful and moving (it even came out in the radio interview, so you knew her language was an actual part of her being), it simply compelled me to read on. But the way she looked at life still makes me sad.

    • jamiechavez says:

      I have talked a lot with the Irishman about his early life, and his parents’ (O’Faolain would have fallen in between those two generations), and read books about that time at his instigation… so that may add to my fondness for her. But first, as you note, is the language. She did have a way with words. :)

  2. […] resulted in another post). A radio interview with Nuala O’Faolain resulted in a book purchase and blog post too. So I was delighted to hear about the Book […]

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  1. By The Christmas Book on 30 December, 2013 at 10:30 am

    […] resulted in another post). A radio interview with Nuala O’Faolain resulted in a book purchase and blog post too. So I was delighted to hear about the Book […]