Friday 11 December 2020


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A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa   {Reviewed by STELLA}
“Perhaps the past is always trembling inside the present, whether or not we sense it.” Irish poet’s Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s debut novel is a triumph of obsession, self-reflection and love. Obsessed with the eighteenth-century poet Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, a young mother negotiates her desire to unpick the mystery of this woman as she navigates the daily tasks of her life. “I try to distract myself in my routine of sweeping, wiping, dusting, and scrubbing. I cling to all my little rituals. I hoard crusts.” Out of small spare moments, car trips to historic sites (houses, cemeteries and libraries) with her youngest child and late-night searches on her phone the shape of Eibhlín Dubh’s life is constructed or more accurately imagined. Who was she? What happened to her? Why can this woman’s life not be tracked while her father's, husband's and sons’ lives can? At the heart of the story is a poem—a lament—written by Eibhlín Dubh for her husband Art O’Leary slain by the orders of the  English magistrate. “Trouncings and desolations on you, ghastly Morris of the treachery”. The poem becomes a touchstone for the narrator, a place where she can rest, where she can dream—imagine the world of this other woman who is dealing with loss, a woman who is resolute and tough, who will not lie down nor succumb to expectation from either her family nor the authorities. A Ghost in the Throat questions the telling of history—the invisibility of female voices. Scattered throughout the novel is the phrase “This is a female text”, making us aware that stories are told and histories revealed in other ways, through the body and its scars, through cloth and object, through the tasks that make us human, through the words that are sometimes unsaid and in the margins where many do not look. As the narrator discovers the poet, she frees herself along with this woman trapped in time and neglect.  Ní Ghríofa writes with bewitching clarity as she describes the daily grind, with dreamlike essence in the moments of childhood memory—the longing and discovery—with realist angst about entering adulthood and motherhood, and with compelling atmosphere as the narrator unpicks the past. Rich in content and language, A Ghost in the Throat is both a scholarly endeavour and an autofiction—endlessly curious and achingly beautiful.

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