Ghost Light by Joseph O’Connor

Ghost LightGhost Light by Joseph O’Connor

I had a really hard time getting through this book. The abstract had me all excited to read the story of John Millington Synge and the woman he was engaged to at the time of his death, but that felt more like the secondary plot of Ghost Light.

The story is told through the eyes of Synge’s fiancée, Molly Allgood, a.k.a. Maire O’Neill. We follow her through a drunken day in London, and every so often she breaks through her alcoholic haze and gives us glimpses into her past. We see her as an up-and-coming actress and then as the grande dame of the Abbey Theatre. We see her tempestuous relationship with Synge, from a secretive beginning, to a heady honeymoon period in Wicklow, to a messy break-up after Synge refuses to marry her, to a melancholy end with Synge’s death and Molly’s deterrioration to drunken penury.

What made Ghost Light a difficult read was that the narrative kept jumping from the second person to the first person, and the parts of the narrative that were told in the second person were particularly jarring. I can see how the confusion might be a useful device in conveying Molly’s state of mind, but it ultimately prevented me from getting truly involved in the story. However, much of the book is beautifully written, and Joseph O’Connor has a way with words and in conveying the atmosphere of Dublin and Wicklow (places I’ve visited and loved). I definitely want to read his other work.

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