Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Book review: "Ghost Light" by Joseph O'Connor

O'Connor, Joseph. Ghost Light. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011.

"Ghost Light" takes a sometimes indirect and distancing look at the romance between the famous Irish playwright and poet J.M. Synge and Maire O'Neill, an actress who originated the part of Pegeen in The Playboy of the Western World. The novel moves between O'Neill day of declining health and hope in London in 1952 and the days she spent in a surreptitious romance with the upper-class, Protestant, doomed Synge. We do get delightful looks at what a rehearsal at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin was like in 1907 as well as a BBC radio broadcast in 1957. O'Connor's lyrical passages often delight, especially when he's writing about sex and the Irish countryside. His portrayal of Synge, afflicted with cancer, is moving and insightful. (Plus, Yeats gets a bizarre monologue.) Still, we may get too much of London and not enough theater, and some of the characters (Synge's mother, O'Neill's grandmother) fall to stereotype. Still, the historical novel entertains and teaches about this pivotal time in the culture of Ireland.

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