Tuesday, March 13, 2001

O'Faolain brings reality to 'Dream'

By Margaret A. McGurk
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Nuala O'Faolain took her time becoming a novelist. Judging from My Dream of You,it was time well spent.

        A veteran columnist for The Irish Times of Dublin,Ms. O'Faolain is an accomplished writer of non-fiction. She proved that with Are You Somebody? The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman, the runaway best-seller about her often taxing life.

        Now, she has turned her considerable talents to fiction, with the story of a middle-aged writer whose search for mere facts leads her to a difficult journey through her own heart.

        The author gives us Kathleen de Burca, an Irish-born writer for a London travel magazine whose life is a fortress against intimacy. Her work guarantees a permanent state of rootlessness. Occasional one-night stands substitute for a love life. She has not been to her family home in 20 years and rarely speaks to her relatives. Even her basement flat is, as she describes it, more a cave than a home.

        Her only close relationship is with a gay colleague, whose sudden death shakes her so deeply that she quits her job and returns to Ireland, intending to write a novel about a scandalous 150-year-old divorce case.

        All she has to guide her are court documents about an Anglo-Irish landowner named Richard Talbot, who accused his British wife, Marianne, of having an affair with an impoverished Irish groom named Mullan.

        The search for the truth about the Talbots also forces Kathleen to confront the bitter memory of the catastrophic famine of the mid-1800s that cost Ireland half its population. My Dream of You is interspersed with chapters of the Talbot story as it evolves in the writer's mind.

        Kathleen imagines young Marianne coming into a region where the dead and dying lay in ditches and open fields, where tenants evicted from the landowners' estates lived in burrows, where a merchant could not find a man strong enough to drive a delivery cart because so many survivors had fled to North America.

        Alone in the big house, surrounded by servants who speak a language she does not understand, with a cloddish husband and nothing to occupy her time but her only child, Marianne's aching loneliness drives her toward the kindly groom. Their bond, though doomed by ruthless divisions of class and country, grows despite a cruel cost, one that Marianne in particular has no way to escape.

        As the history reawakens her sense of identity, Kathleen finds her own passion reborn in an unlikely relationship that also presents a punishing choice.

        Ms. O'Faolain (her name is pronounced NOO-lah oh-FWAY-lon) writes with sculptural grace, in language devoid of sentiment and burnished to a high gleam, at once earthy and poetic. Here, for instance, is Kathleen musing, as she often does, about sex:

        “It was never real excitement that got you into bed; it was hope, like some stubborn underground weed. Look at the way you've believed every time, at the first brush of a hand across a breast, that the roof over your life was sliding back and a dazzling, starry firmament was just coming into view.”

        Now, there is a writer's voice that could only have been forged by long and fruitful experience.


               Nuala O'Faolain will be in the Tristate to discuss and sign My Dream of You:

        • Today, 7 p.m., Books & Co., Town & Country Shopping Center, 350 E. Stroop Road, Kettering; (937) 298-6540.

        • Wednesday, 7 p.m., Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Rookwood Pavilion, 2692 Madison Road; (513) 396-8960.

               My Dream of You

By Nuala O'Faolain

        Riverhead Books; $25.95; 512 pages


Playhouse director has tough act to top
New season offers two treats
KNIPPENBERG: Stobart's artwork has people clamoring
Get to it
- O'Faolain brings reality to 'Dream'
Tristate best sellers list
What Tristaters are readiong
What's happening in area bookstores