Thursday's book: Are You Somebody? Nuala O'Faolain

Rare is the book that you really cannot put down, the one that seems as necessary, poignant, impossible and joyful as life. This short work of memory and desire by one of Ireland's most prominent columnists is one of them.

Are You Somebody? has the form of a long low-voiced conversation through the night, where every piece of narrative comes at the moment best suited to it, where the whole builds up through an endless return to significant pieces.

O'Faolain begins with her childhood, but she never leaves it alone. Her first family are with her right to the end: her alcoholic, passionate mother; her dapper, neglectful journalist father ("using natural charm and courtesy to keep other people at a distance") and her eight sisters and brothers, whose sadnesses she feels more deeply than her own.

This is also a portrait of "old Ireland", a cruel place where children starved behind grey house fronts, where no-one touched them - so they grew up not knowing how to touch. Inevitably, she envies the children of Ireland today who are so much more confident and happy than she and her siblings ever were.

O'Faolain's own adult life was a search to be one of the "beloved of the earth". There were dozens of men; literary intellectuals of varying quality with whom she seemed to have shared a rainbow of ideas and work but little happiness. It is frightening how often she admits that she slept with a man only because she was afraid not to. She digs beneath the surface to understand how her relationships were made up of a constellation of things: the assumptions of old Ireland's patriarchy, her own past, and her living difficult self.

Many of those men she knew in her youth, as friends or lovers, are now middle-aged and respectable. "And middle-aged members of the Irish establishment behave as if there is no history between them. There is a pretence that no feelings are in play between people." Part of the radicalism of this memoir, then, is its disruption of that bland but remaining cruelty.

After the book came out, a man sought her out, kissed her passionately in a dark pub corridor and then walked away, promising to return. Her acknowledged burning need for human touch and her sad incredulity at why he did not return was just one of the many things that made me weep in this extraordinary, near-perfect book.

Published by Sceptre, pounds 6.99

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

    £13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

    £18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

    Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

    £20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before