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At the end of life what do we single out and hold up as our finest achievement For Molly Allgood, an Irish actress, it s her relationship with the playwright John Synge Ghost Light is narrated, often in the second person, by Molly during a single day at the end of her life Molly is down on her luck and something of an alcoholic Therefore, not perhaps the most reliable of narrators Prone to flights of lyrical beautification, Molly, one suspects, has idealised Synge What we learn about him, between the lines, isn t always likeable He s reluctant for example to make their relationship public This isn t one of those explosive soul searing literary couplings Molly and Singe s relationship is perhaps, behind all Molly s poetic waxing, a rather lacklustre affair, only made legendary in her mind by his early death Yet it s this relationship she calls upon as her last will and testament I have to confess at times I wasn t quite sure I believed this premise There was a suspicion that this is a female sensibility interpreted and distorted through the lens of a male Molly has been a successful actress yet dwells little on her professional achievements Nor does she appear to have made any close friends or been bewitched by places she s visited Obviously the author wanted to write about her brief relationship with Synge but perhaps the form he chose wasn t the best option I m pretty sure at the end of my life I won t be editing my life down to one person I briefly loved and devoting all my energy to recreating our story I often found Molly compelling as an old woman than a young girl Joseph O Connor writes very well another lyrical Irishman and though it went a bit flat towards the end there was still lots to admire in this novel. Brilliant Writing But Difficult ReadingI really enjoyed O Connor s Star of the Sea and was eager to read Ghost Light This novel is a fictionalization of the life of Molly Allgood, who was in love with and engaged to John Synge the Irish playwright at the time of his death O Connor introduces us to Molly who is now sixty five years old living in London, the year is 1952 She is alone and lives in a less than desirable part of the city, she drinks gin to ease her mind and sometimes drinks too much She looks back on her life and the love she had with Synge She shares those memories with the reader through the foggy haze of cold, hunger and inebriation While much of this novel is beautifully written it was also often difficult to follow, time and place turn in within a thought and it s often difficult to know where you are, in the present or the past The narration itself was a bit of a puzzle to me, it too shifts, actions are described in the third person as well as the first person Some observations are given in an almost staccato rhythm, then a moment later the words are beautifully arranged, nearly poetry John Synge interjects his thoughts and opinions periodically And while I m certain that every word of this novel was intentional, my uncertainty is only with regard to how much I enjoyed it I loved some of this novel but as a whole it was difficult to follow I think writers and fans of literature will appreciate this work Readers who typically enjoy popular fiction may want to try O Connor s Star of the Sea , which is in my opinion much accessible to the common man. Dublin 1907, a young Irish actress embarks on a doomed affair with John Millington Synge, the Irish playwright In the 1950s an old, impoverished woman makes her way across London, reminscing about her glory days as an acclaimed actress and her relationship with the enigmatic Synge This is a demanding read, like poetry than prose, requiring the reader to slow down and savour every word, even having to reread sections at times The second person narration also requires some effort on the reader s part but once accustomed to it, you get a real feel for Molly Allgood and the deep passion she felt for Synge Molly takes centre stage in this stream of consciousness narrative which flits between the faded grandeur of her life in the 50s and the vitality and exhuberance of her character in 1907, the year in which she meets Synge and becomes the inspiration for Pegeen, the leading female character in The Playboy of the Western World.Ireland is in a state of chassis quoting from Juno and the Paycock, Sean O Casey in 1907 as the country moves towards independence and Molly and Synge s relationship seems equally tumultuous coming as they do from opposing religions, social status and age but this is not a historical novel as such but rather a reimagining of a love story Molly is an extremely engaging character, vivacious in her youth, resourceful and witty in her later years holding her head up high despite her straitened circumstances with the odd nip of gin providing a much needed boost.There are equal amounts of tragedy and comedy in this character driven tale Ultimately it is an uplifting tale despite the doom laden nature of the key players relationship, the difference in class, the social disapproval and ultimately Synge s untimely death from Hodgkin s disease Molly shines through the gloom and there s a mischievous glint in her eye and a vitality which remains with the reader.If you appreciate beautifully written prose and the stream of consciousness style you will thoroughly enjoy this delicate love story, prior knowledge of Synge s literary opus is not a prerequisite but I now feel compelled to revisit The Playboy of the Western World, last viewed about 30 years ago for O Level English 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. This is the first book by Joseph O Connor yes, he s the brother of Sinead O Connor I ve read, but I can tell you, it won t be the last I loved Ghost Light, and I intend on investigating this wonderful Irish author further Joseph O Connor s writing runs the gamut from non fiction and journalism to screenplays, stage plays, and novels, of which Ghost Light is his seventh Ghost Light revolves around the great Irish playwright and co founder, with William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory, of Dublin s Abbey Theatre , John Millington Synge, and his fianc e, the Irish Catholic actress, Molly Allgood, an actress who performed under the name of Maire O Neill Synge was fourteen years older than Molly, and a Protestant, things that did make a difference Their engagement, in fact, their entire relationship, was frowned on by just about everyone, including their families and Yeats Molly s friends and family believed she was being led astray by the older Synge, while Synge s friends and family thought his romance with Molly would cause his art to suffer, thus affecting the success of the Abbey Theatre Synge had graduated from the university, while Molly had trouble with everyday spelling and punctuation Synge encouraged Molly to read better books, and to study poetry so she could critique his own work But Molly Allgood was no student As a general rule, the pair kept their love or less a secret, and when Synge, who was suffering from Hodgkin s disease, went to convalesce in England, he was filled with worry and suspicion, afraid that a younger man about Dublin would steal Molly away in his absence And, though Molly did allow other men to admire her from a distance, she increasingly found Synge s all too frequent absences and the fact that he hovered between sickness and health a bit too much She was, after all, in the prime of life and blessed with good looks, energy, and vitality.After Molly s triumphant performance in his play, The Playboy of the Western World, Synge was even in love, and told Molly You are my whole world you that is, and the little shiny new moon When Hodgkin s claimed Synge s life in 1909, just weeks shy of his thirty eighth birthday, Molly was forbidden to go to his funeral by his family.Though both Molly Allgood and John Synge were real persons, and though Molly was, indeed, Synge s lover, O Connor makes it clear that Ghost Light is a work of fiction rather than a biography of a love affair In fact, at times, the book is all fiction save for the fact that Allgood and Synge were real The experiences and personalities of the real Molly and Synge differed from those of my characters in uncountable ways, writes O Connor Most of the events in this book never happened at all Certain biographers will want to beat me with a turf shovel I don t doubt they will, but the fact that O Connor made a lot of his facts up didn t, in any way, dim my enjoyment of his book I think Ghost Light is am amazing book, and I enjoyed every minute I spent reading it.The novel opens in 1952, in London, where Molly s living in a rundown lodging house on the Bayswater Road Once the toast of the Irish theatre, Molly s now destitute, and her life revolves around tea, tobacco, and cheap gin There is, however, one bright spot in Molly s life She been hired by the BBC to read a part in a radio play, and even though she knows it ll be some time before she s paid, she will be paid eventually and the part will jog the memories of those who once saw her and loved her on the Irish stage.Like many of Sebastian Barry s books, Ghost Light is a memory piece As Molly walks from Bayswater, across town to the recording studios of the BBC, she thinks about a letter she s received from a California student who wants an interview I could offer a small sum as remuneration for your time Would an amount of, say, 50 be acceptable Alternatively I should be happy to send you anything you require to that value, since I know certain goods and foodstuffs are still quite scarce in England There is another financial question I would like to broach, Miss O Neill, and I hope I shall do so without offense I understand some years ago you sold to his surviving family all your letters of an intimate nature from Synge My institution has authorized me to say, should other manuscripts having to do with JMS and his circle remain in your possession scripts, revisions, juvenilia, notebooks, drafts, fragments, abandoned works, et cetera we would be honored to acquire them for our archive.If Molly had anything of value left, given her circumstances, one would think she would have sold it already And so she has A second hand dealer in Russell Square has purchased all of Molly s possessions deemed to have been valuable with the exception of one Molly still has the very first letter Synge ever wrote to her, a letter in which he apologizes for the criticisms he made of her during a rehearsal at the Abbey Theatre It was bloody of me and I am sorry, Synge writes I allowed myself to become upset You must permit the words to lead you to the heart words come from You requested of me advice That is it.As Molly walks from her dilapidated rooming house to the BBE broadcasting offices, her mind returns to Dublin in 1908 and her memories of Synge As she travels the London streets, Molly encounters people and places that remind her of her past, and the reader learns how she met Synge and became his lover We learn that though she loved him dearly, her relationship with Synge brought Molly heartbreak than happiness, though it did become the one dominant relationship in Molly s life.I thought I would heartily dislike O Connor s use of the second person to tell his story, but after reading only two or three pages, it came to seem natural to me Molly is, after all, speaking to herself And, using the second person allows O Connor to layer his story for maximum impact on the reader and to develop a number of disparate themes We learn about fin de si cle Irish theatre, repressive Irish family life, decline and destitution, the fickle nature of celebrity, and This is a rich novel, with well developed characters that really come to life I loved Molly Her inner voice was radiant, even though it was, at times, filled with self pity and self hate And, she was Irish to her core This is Molly as she looks at a painting in the National Portrait Gallery Heavens to Betsy, what an ugly old trout Face like a bag of rusted spanners Imagine, someone paid good money for that glower to be painted More beauty in the door of a jakes, that s the God s honest truth My Jesus Almighty, but there s hope for us all, Molls The Duchess of Blandford Looks like Mussolini in a wig Il Duce with udders God help us.I found I couldn t forget Molly, and I felt I understood her pain Rather than be angry with her when she considers selling Synge s letter for a bottle of liquor, I understood her destitution, I felt her pain and her poverty, and her need for comfort, even if that comfort was only going to last an hour or two In Joseph O Connor s able hands, Molly Allgood s a character who simply leaps off the page.This is a story than goes back and forth in time I liked that, and I think it worked perfectly in this book I know some readers like their novels very straightforward and very linear, however, but even those who do will probably like Ghost Light The jumps in time are so well handled and smooth.There will be readers who will criticize this book as containing too much truth to be a novel, and there will be readers who will criticize it for not being straight biography I can understand that, but based on a true story doesn t really bother me at all, and it does give O Connor the opportunity to answer some of the burning questions those of us who love Synge s plays have always wondered about Did Synge really, truly love Molly Did they ever consummate their love Given the age difference and his ill health, how much did Molly love Synge Here s Molly, in a fictional letter written to Synge from an island off the west coast of Ireland, a place where Molly had gone to learn Irish And everything about you gives me the courage I never, ever had and without you I m like a ghost drifting through some old house of a life and there s nothing about you I don t love.That s so beautiful that true or not true, I wouldn t have wanted to miss reading it Ghost Light, for me, is a wonderful Irish novel, and the fact that it s about the theatre and those in the theatre, which I love, and that it revolves around Synge, who s plays I adore, is just an added bonus The best thing about the book, however, were the authentic Irish voices Johnny Synge s bit of native The proddy s little squaw That Kingstown playboy s huer Insults hurled long ago by the wags of witty Dublin, still audible after than forty years.I m going to read O Connor s two previous books, Star of the Sea and Redemption Falls, both very wonderfully received, and darker books than Ghost Light I expect to love them both.5 5Recommended To those who love the theatre and really well written Irish novels, or simply literary novels of any kind I studied drama and I act in my local community theatre, so I might have loved this book a bit than some, but still, theatre lover or not, Joseph O Connor is an author worth investigating and following. Beautiful evocation of Edwardian Dublin and the love affair between playwright J.M Synge and Abbey Theatre actress Maire O Neill The author used complicated tense changes present for Synge s or Maire s present 1907 until his death for him the year 1952 for her and past for each of their pasts An omnipotent narrator who will be returning from time to time, starts out by addressing Maire as You he she is talking to her and we see that in 1952 London, Maire is a has been actress and alcoholic living in a dilapidated tenement in penury She obtains a job at BBC for a radio version of an O Casey play She trudges there, in the snowy, wintry weather from her home and besides doing errands, spends her day in the National Portrait Gallery, a church, and the cinema The story moves back and forth from past to present events in real time and those in Maire s memory as she makes her journey, recounting those years Much remembrance is a type of stream of consciousness After the broadcast, the story becomes poignant and sad.The story was slow moving intentionally, so people wanting a lot of action will not find it here in fact, if you re not in the mood for it, this novel could be a soporific The language and descriptions were lovely The author has a gift for putting words together in new ways meaningfully Much dialogue was couched in Irish slang or in Irish dialect I was able to figure them out from context and they added to the richness of the Irish flavor I especially liked the first half of Chapter 5 a hilarious rehearsal at the Abbey Theatre with Synge, Yeats, Lady Gregory, and Maire I loved the author s quoting the various songs and ballads The title was fitting Ghost Light is a theatrical superstition when the theater is dark no performances at least one light is always left on for ghosts to perform their plays The chapter where Synge meets Maire s mother and brother was written in the form of a play O Connor s note at the end was revealing Now I m curious I must read The Playboy of the Western World by Synge I d like to know why there was a big uproar when it was first presented. 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 risqu 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. This Involving Novel Puts You Inside The Mind Of Molly Allgood, An Elderly Actress Wandering Around The Brilliantly Evoked S London Of Crumbling Lodging Houses And Uncleared Bombsites Contrasting With The Down At Heel Circumstances To Which She Is Reduced Are Memories, Rendered With Sensuous Freshness And Vernacular Wit, Of Her Rich Past, Especially Her Love Affair In Dublin With The Abbey Theatre Playwright John Synge In Whose The Playboy Of The Western World She StarredPeter Kemp, The Sunday TimesLondon , Books Of The Year It took me a few attempts to get into it but I blame that on lack of sleep rather than the book itself The style of writing requires slow reading and a lot of concentration so that you don t miss any of the beautifully written prose The main character is Molly Allgood, an Irish actress living in London with little money at her disposal The book reminises about her life and her relationship with Synge Through the course of the book we realise that Molly is the ever optimist and even though she is now in a difficult financial situation she is still positive about each and every day even if she does need the odd sip of gin to get her through the day. There are some really wonderful, evocative lines passages in this book, but at page 109, I m generally bored I don t really feel any connection between the 2 main characters, just as in the main I feel that I am reading words, rather than being caught up in a story, a life, someone s actual thoughts experiences Perhaps that s what the author intends after all the 2 lovers are an actress playwriteis he trying to comment on evoke the notion of them living as if in a play Well, whatever truthfully I don t find the book interesting or captivating enough to care with so many other books out there that I want to read,Ii m not wasting any time with this one.