Thursday's book: Are You Somebody? Nuala O'Faolain
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
Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt
When teaching the meaning of Christmas backfires
Life & Style blogs
Alexander McQueen at auction: What makes a really great piece of fashion?
A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
No female ejaculation, please, we’re British: a history of porn and censorship
Stressed nurses are 'forced to choose between health of patients and their own'
Pornhub: Kim Kardashian's sex tape is the most-watched porn video of all-time
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...
£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...
£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...
£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...