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Trespassers: a Memoir, By Julia O'Faolain. Faber & Faber, £14.99
Tuesday 23 July 2013
This is an exceptional memoir. "I ply my parents' trade," says Julia O'Faolain; and she is uniquely placed, by inheritance and skills, to take over where her parents left off. Born in 1932, she was brought up on folk tales, of which her mother Eileen O'Faolain published several collections, and on stories of the Black and Tan war and Civil War, in which both parents were active participants.
She went on to acquire a European aplomb to match her father Sean O'Faolain's Irish urbanity, courtesy of scholarships to Paris and Rome, and later sojourns in London, Florence, Venice, Los Angeles and New York. Having left her native country after graduating from University College Dublin, she never lived there again. But in many ways she remained anchored to Ireland, due in part to her admiration and affection for her remarkable parents – whose marriage endured, despite her father's penchant for clever women.
Julia O'Faolain went to school in Dublin with the Sacred Heart nuns, thought to be a bit more polished than the usual run of Catholic educators. Church tyranny was a bugbear of Sean O'Faolain, who often got into hot water for airing his anticlerical views. The O'Faolain household, however, was a centre of fun, hospitality and lively debate, with frequent visitors including Frank O'Connor, Richard Ellmann, Conor Cruise O'Brien, Norah McGuinness, Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh and others. Young Julia, the future novelist, was getting a good grounding in a satirical approach to scandals, and a relish for energetic language.
The great joy of Trespassers is the way it incorporates personal experience, and witty observations, into the social backgrounds: bohemian Dublin in the 1950s, left-wing Paris and Italy, post-Fascist Rome, and – after her marriage to Lauro Martines in 1957 – American academia. Julia O'Faolain writes with fluency and integrity, and strikes the just right balance between candour and reticence.
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