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on 20 August 2012
GHOST LIGHT by Joseph O'Connor is a work of historical fiction with ghostly overtones and metaphorical allusions oozing from every page. The living spirits of Edwardian playwright J.M.Synge and his actress paramour/fiancé are depicted via the author's zealous and often flowery application of the written word lavishly coupled with imaginative conjecture.
By definition ghost light is one of the following: (1) in the theater it is the light left on overnight so that the ghosts may perform (2) a will-o-the-wisp natural phenomenon producing a ghostly light sometimes seen at night or twilight over bogs, swamps, and marshes. Over and over we find metaphoric references to this ghost light. Initially it is the light Molly sees emanating from the top floor room in the townhouse across the terrace from hers. There are also the will-o-the-wisp memories of Molly's past life and the fame and love that remained just beyond her grasp. Molly is our focus as she dreamily replays the ghostly memories of a past that haunts her every waking moment.
Following the broken, alcoholic Molly through one day in 1952 we are willing voyeurs into her past. We see not only the woman she is, but the woman she once was - a consummate actress. Over and over again we catch glimpses of that "old Molly" in her many encounters throughout the day as she assumes various personas, performing first as the upright concerned citizen for the constable on the beat followed by her performance as the socially conscious do-gooder as she interacts with Mr. Ballentine, and finally the attainment of her finest hour as the grand dame of the stage holding audience with an admiring fan.
As for playwright J.M. Synge, although famous in his own right he is he is merely a supporting character in this telling of Molly's life. When viewed through Molly's alcoholic fog he could be perceived as the romantic lead. When observed through more sober eyes, he appears as a physically and emotionally weak, class-conscious character whose personal insecurities are manifested in his attempts to control his theatrical presentations as well as the behavior of Molly - his muse. In his defiance of family, friends and mores of the day his demeanor is not that of a strong willed man pursuing the woman and the life he desires but rather that of a selfish and obstinate loner who enjoys no company more than his own. It is fairly obvious that Molly was fighting a losing battle in this affair since no woman could ever have loved this man as much as he loved himself.
I understand that this story is fiction, based on the author's hypothesis and fueled by his creative narrative voice. Be that as it may, for this reader, Synge was just the first in a long line of the poor choices that led to the slow slide of our Molly into the depths of loneliness and diminished circumstances.