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3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
Ghost Light
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on 15 October 2017
We are reading this in our Book Club this month and I really enjoyed it. The description of that time is really well executed and the book is beautifully written. The book is loosely based on real people but takes quite a lot of dramatic licence with their actual lives but as I was not familiar with either of the protagonists' stories this did not in any way detract from my enjoyment of the book.
I would highly recommend this book and am looking forward to getting feedback from the other book club members.
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on 8 June 2010
In the opening pages of Joseph O'Connor's new novel the reader is introduced to Molly Allgood, once acclaimed star of the Irish stage, now living as a down-and-out in 1950s London. She is reminiscing about her life that stretches back to 1907, beginning with her appearance in the Dublin opening of John Synge's controversial play, The Playboy of the Western World.

The unnamed narrator of her story uses a method of telling that is virtually a monologue by Molly, with her talking to herself more often than to anyone else in particular. Surprisingly, it works rather well, evoking as it does the richness of the Irish vernacular, with its witticisms and confrontational yet ironic turns of phrase. The reader soon warms to the character despite the melancholy and sadness in her tone of voice.

She dwells on the circumstances of the love affair she had with Synge, an older man (at the time aged 35 to her 17): religious disapproval was evident from the outset because he was from Protestant stock and she a Roman Catholic, but they also had to contend with the general opprobrium their liaison brought about in the community at large.

As Molly proceeds with her story one is given insights of her gradual yet inevitable fall from grace as an actress; from the world tours, through two failed marriages and the death of a son to her current state bedevilled by her addiction to alcohol.

She still believes in herself however, and is desperately trying to learn a bit part she has been given in a BBC play. Though despair is also present, because she is driven by her impoverishment to try and sell a love letter from Synge - her last link with those exhilarating yet bitter-sweet days in early twentieth century Dublin.

O'Connor has written a tragi-comedy about a memorable character whom is likely to remain in the reader's imagination long after the book is closed. Four stars.
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on 2 December 2011
I don't often leave reviews. But have been stung into doing so by being truly shocked at the relatively poor ratings that this superb masterpiece has received. It needs a quick 5 starrer in its defence.
Ghost Light is, quite simply, one of the best books I have ever read - and I read a lot, and a lot of "proper fiction." Two of the scenes, one during a rehearsal with Yeats and another written as a piece of drama, are bordering on genius. The writing is breath-taking, the vision of Molly ekeing out her terrible existence, rife with self denial, steeped in poverty, drawing on the faint glory of earlier days and now lurching from filched drink to filched drink is sublime. The wit and style shown by Joseph O'Connor are breath-taking. There is a terrible tension through the day, the main "day" of the novel when you fear whether she will ever make the BBC and her playing her part.
This is not one of those dreary "evocative" books maundering on and on while you struggle to stay awake, or remember - or care - who anyone is, nor is it tediously Oirish but a sparkling display of great tenderness towards both Molly and the more shadowy Synge.
A complete stunner. Why it wasn't wreathed in awards and isn't now basking in a sea of 5-stars I just cannot think.
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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.
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on 24 May 2011
Molly Allgood O'Neill is a cranky old woman, weakened by extreme poverty and loneliness. An aging actress, she makes her way across London to one of the few jobs she can find-as a voice actress. Throughout her journey, she spends her time remembering the long ago affair she carried on with the Irish playwright, John Synge. In her memory Synge as well as the legendary Yeats come to life, and through her memories she gains a bit of vitality-all while so malnourished she can barely walk.

Her memory is detailed, and with equal parts humor and bitterness, she reflects on aging, competing with her sister, and the complicated socially-unbalanced relationship she had with Synge. His being of wealth and fame, and her poor urban upbringing, dooms their affair from the start. His mother will not consider him marrying her as beneath their social level. Molly's sister too objects to the relationship, denying its reality. The Dublin theatre, and everything made up and false, becomes a key to understanding their attraction to each other as well as their eventual distance.

Molly is at her best when she's thinking aloud. The author, Joseph O'Connor, presents her as a tough old bird who dismisses those beneath her, yet still partaking of their charity towards her. Especially touching is a local bartender who spots her a free drink on occasion, as well as a bit of food. They both keep up the pretense that she's a wealthy old actress, when without him she'd likely starve. In her small apartment, she's down to living with that which can't be burnt for warmth. Hunger grates at her, and makes her memories that much more painful.

She laments aging and her habit of talking to herself: "And getting up earlier. Another symptom, that. What young person ever got up at dawn out of choice? And talking to the wireless. And talking to the rain. And talking to dogs and to flowers in people's gardens. And talking to clothes that don't fit you any more and to dishes that need washing but haven't been washed....and whoever puts the zips in the back of women's dresses, a presumption, if ever there was one, that every woman is married..."

Her observations of the London neighborhood are sardonic and `cheeky'. One man that looks at her a bit too long gets her riled: "So turn the other cheek if you don't like the look of me, and kiss my arse like it owes you the rent."

The name of the novel comes from a theatre tradition: "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 plays." The significance is obvious: she's still alive while her peers are dead, yet who remain as alive in her memories.

As a character study, it's fascinating. Seeing the character change as she observes Synge's illness, and her reaction to the gossip about her is subtle-the author doesn't tell us how she's changed but shows us instead. A few times I thought the theatre scenes, where Synge and Yeats interact, ran a bit long (I sort of scanned those pages). Perhaps if I knew more of their actual history I'd have been more interested. The other thing that unsettled me was the ending. The book proceeded to a point that I expected it to end, it would have been perfect (to me), yet a new development occurred that continued it a short while longer. That put me off-track a bit, and it was hard to reconnect after what seemed like the obvious ending.

I could actually see this becoming a movie-there's enough action and drama that would go well with the Dublin and London period costumes. I'd actually like to cast it: Cate Blanchett as Molly, Viggo Mortensen as Synge, and Liam Neeson as Yeats. That'd work.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 April 2011
I enjoyed "Star of the Sea" and admire O'Connor's desire to experiment, in this case moving from the pace of a vigorous, oldfashioned yarn (Star of the Sea) to a very different kind of novel - much shorter, slower moving, introspective and filled with memories and flashbacks. It begins with a povertystricken, alcoholic old woman recalling the time spent years ago with the much older, long dead Irish playwright Synge.

The structure of the book is quite "original", making demands on the reader to suspend all usual expectations and "go with the flow" as O'Connor pursues Irish streams of consciousness and recreates past scenes, sometimes writing the story of Molly Allgood's relationship with Synge in the form of a scene from a play.

The quality of the prose is undeniable - beautiful, carefully constructed descriptions, and O'Connor conveys well a sense of loss and nostalgia, but for me the work lacks pace, and I cannnot engage with the characters as I should. I felt ashamed to find it so hard to read and may return to it - but I fear that the lure of another book will always draw me away.
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on 18 June 2010
A Ghost Light is a light left on in a theatre overnight by which the ghosts perform their plays. It makes an apt title for this novel which is loosely based on the doomed true-life relationship between the Irish playwright J.M. Synge and the much younger actress Molly Allgood. Synge dies from cancer at an early age but his ghost lives on through Molly who narrates her own very poignant story. Bur her strong character is so very memorable as is the writing itself which is beautiful, and so loaded with vernacular wit and colourful, unforgettable phrasing that demands to be read at a measured pace so the language can be fully savoured. Highly recommended!
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on 13 April 2013
This fictional re-telling of the real relationship between the Anglo-Irish writer J M Synge and the young Irish actress Molly Allgood, puts flesh on the bones of the convoluted social attitudes of pre-First World War Ireland, tracing the developing tender but combative love story between two people from opposite sides of the social and racial divide.
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on 27 June 2011
Lyrical writing. Interesting Characters but I found the wingeing and complaining a bit much. It's chosen as the One City One Book this year in Dublin which will do wonders for sales.
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on 29 July 2013
This was a novel whose subject had great potential i.e the Irish playwright Synge and his relationship with a young actress. The voice of the novel was confusing and the construction poor. For example a whole chapter was filled with a single letter from the public which was used as a scene-setting device. The substance was flat and unconvincing, descriptive rather than narrative. It is a waste of money and time.
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