Open Eye: Nuala O'Faolain: Powerful new best-seller from former OU producer

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A former OU programme maker, Nuala O'Faolain is a noted broadcaster and columnist for the Irish Times. This is her lyrical and powerful memoir which became an extraordinary bestseller in Ireland and is now in the upper reaches of the New York Times best-seller list.

Describing herself as a "shy animal on the outskirts of the human settlement," she traces the events of her life in both Dublin and London and her journey to a new understanding of herself as an Irish woman in the late 20th century.

Full of cinematic images, Nuala confronts the experience and memory of an alcoholic, defeated mother and a charming but absent father. Her pursuit of love and work through 1950s Ireland and her intellectual liberation through literature and the women's movement are conveyed with the conversational intimacy of a close friend.

Her idealism led her to apply for a post as a BBC producer to make television programmes for the fledgling OU at Alexandra Palace with its "plush and gold theatre, echoing halls full of forgotten scenery".

For Nuala, the OU was planned "with generosity" and she recalls making programmes with Philip Larkin and John Berger and the still familiar variety of rewards and frustrations of creating broadcasts:

"Going to Florence to collect the material to recreate a Renaissance wedding festival or to the USA to record radio talks on Mazzini and Courbet or the role of concrete in modern architecture or to Israel to film the Passover among Yemeni Jews.

"I had to haggle with officials, cope with difficult camera crews, and strikes and transport that didn't arrive and demands for cash on the nail and lonely hotel rooms and boring meetings and airport terminals late at night with the last plane gone," she recalls.

As raw as anything by Roddy Doyle, Nuala's memoir speaks for a generation of Irish women coming to terms with her subject of 'North/South, man/woman, then/now' as well as the private demons of loneliness and ageing and the public challenges of the new Ireland.

Simon Newton

The Life and Times of Nuala O'Faolain Sceptre 1997 pounds 6.99