Dublin 1907, a city of whispered rumours. An actress still in her teens begins an affair with a damaged older man, the leading playwright at the theatre where she works. Rebellious, irreverent, beautiful, flirtatious, Molly Allgood is a girl of the inner city tenements, dreaming of stardom in America. Witty and watchful, she has dozens of admirers. But in the backstage of her life, there is a secret.
Her lover, John Synge, is a troubled, reticent genius, the son of a once prosperous landowning family, a poet of fiery language and tempestuous passions. Yet his life is hampered by Edwardian conventions and by the austere and God-fearing mother with whom he lives. Scarred by a childhood of immense loneliness and severity, he had long been ill, but he loves to walk the wild places of Ireland. The affair, sternly opposed by friends and family, is turbulent, sometimes cruel, often tender.
Many years later, an old woman makes her way across London on a morning after the city has been struck by a hurricane. Christmas is coming. As she wanders past bombsites and through the forlorn beauty of wrecked terraces and wintry parks, a snowdrift of memories and lost desires seems to swirl. She has twice been married: once widowed, once divorced, but an unquenchable passion of life has kept her afloat as her dazzling career has faded.
A story of love’s commitment, of partings and reconciliations, of the courage involved in living on nobody else’s terms, Ghost Light is a profoundly moving and finally uplifting novel from the award-winning author of Star of the Sea and Redemption Falls. Full of exhilarating language and unforgettable characters, it is a homage to the act of storytelling.
"O’Connor’s vivid and sometimes visionary reimagining of the love affair between Molly Allgood and the Irish dramatist John Millington Synge….O’Connor rides the wave of Irish eloquence...a jagged lyricism redolent of Seamus Heaney."
THE NEW YORK TIMES Book Review
"Ghost Light displays an astonishing command of voice, using tones that are both tender and powerfully emotional, with brilliant command of the period."
Colm Tóibín, Daily Telegraph, Books of the Year
"One (critical) wintry day in the life of an actress fallen on hard times, interwoven with her love affair with John Millington Synge. Moving and beautifully written."
Tom Sutcliffe, Mann Booker Prize judge 2010, The Independent, Books of the Year
"This involving novel puts you inside the mind of Molly Allgood, an elderly actress wandering around the brilliantly evoked 1950s London of crumbling lodging houses and uncleared bombsites. Contrasting with the down-at-heel circumstances to which she is reduced are memories, rendered with sensuous freshness and vernacular wit, of her rich past, especially her love affair in 1907 Dublin with the Abbey Theatre playwright John Synge in whose The Playboy of the Western World she starred."
Peter Kemp, Sunday Times, Books of the Year
"Joseph O'Connor's Ghost Light (Harvill Secker) is absolutely brilliant – a beautifully written love story and, somehow, a chunk of Irish social and political history."
Roddy Doyle, The Guardian, Books of the Year
"I can’t think of any book I’ve read recently which has so enthralled me and worked at every single level. Ghost Light is a wonder."
Peter Carey, twice winner of the Booker Prize, on Sky Books programme, Sky TV
"Joseph O’Connor’s Ghost Light puts Molly Allgood, lover of John Millington Synge, on stage as she makes her last journey through London to the BBC in 1952. The wealth of her memories transforms the poverty of her circumstances as she recalls a love affair of opposites by religion, class and temperament. A fascinating voice returned to a woman silenced when, on his death, her letters to Synge were destroyed by his family."
Niall Crowley, The Irish Times, Books of the Year
"A tour de force….A love story that is as complex as it is beautiful.
There is a genius stroke in its narration."
The Sunday Business Post
"An elegiac novel. O’Connor’s triumph in Ghost Light is the creation of Molly, a fragile yet resilient woman, bowed down but still witty and resourceful."
The Sunday Independent
"A beautifully crafted narrative…Evoked magically."
"An entertaining read that carries a touching tale."
"A remarkable, radiant and captivating novel…Deeply and resolutely imagined."
The Independent (UK)
"A stately and poetic work."
"A subtle wonder... Unmissable."
The Daily Mail
"He brings to life the joys and disappointments of a doomed romance with a rare
and sparkling intensity."
"A literary feast from first chapter to last."
"Impressively well crafted...Wreathed in language of Joycean richness...
Lovingly drawn...O'Connor displays typical imaginative virtuosity and emotional depth."
The Sunday Times
Beautifully written...Engaging and affecting.
The Independent on Sunday
"A tender, haunting tale...Original and moving."
"Enchanting...Moving...Rhapsodically Joycean...Wickedly comic...Readers will be delighted."
The Sunday Telegraph
"When I think of GHOST LIGHT, the words climb over each other to be first in the queue: brilliant, beautiful. exhilarating, heartbreaking, masterly. It's that good."
"A TOUCHING AND TENDER LOVE STORY".
Tatler, May 2010
"Superbly written and magically evocative."
"HIS BRILLIANT NEW NOVEL."
The Irish Times, 21 May 2010
"What shines in the end is O’Connor’s conviction in the worth of his material, a precise style bolstered by quick flashes of his wicked humour. Ghost Light is a careful, thoughtful story, the worlds of which are impeccably rendered."
The Irish Examiner, 22 May 2010.
"A tender and compassionate love story."
The Times Literary Supplement
"JOSEPH O’CONNOR’S seventh novel, Ghost Light, will give days of pleasure to tens and tens of thousands of readers. It is a great love story, with extras: a virtuoso display of literary talent."
The Irish Times.
"Ghost Light is full of sly pleasures, and there is a great deal of comedy, after the manner of Myles na Gopaleen. The novel's central seriousness, however, turns on O'Connor's rendering of the character of Synge, a "scrupulously gentle" genius fighting with a fanatically Protestant mother, coarsened by a childhood of "well-meant but extraordinary cruelty". O'Connor's evocation of such a difficult and yet morally beautiful man through the memory of an earthy and vivacious woman is remarkably ambitious and imaginative."
The Irish Independent
"A SPELLBINDING READ."
"With his previous novels, Star of the Sea and Redemption Falls, O’Connor carved out a unique way of playing his storyteller’s hand over a wide landscape, with the use of invented documentation and textual adventure. Ghost Light brings that achievement to a new dimension, more specifically located and yet all the more masterful in its management of re-imagined lives and the time they inhabit. The writing is lyrical and moving. In the words given to Molly herself, “You’d nearly sing it.”"
The Financial Times
"I CAN'T RECOMMEND IT HIGHLY ENOUGH."
Ryan Tubridy. RTE Radio
"A DEEPLY MOVING, BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN STORY"
The Glasgow Herald
Hilary Orpen, The View, RTE Television
"REALLY, REALLY BEAUTIFUL"
Carrie Crowley, The View, RTE Television
"WONDERFUL AND VERY, VERY POWERFUL INDEED."
Hugh Linehan, The View, RTE Television
"A BRILLIANT NOVEL"
Joseph O'Neill, author of Netherland
"I CAN'T IMAGINE MANY BETTER - OR BRAVER - NOVELS THAN GHOST LIGHT COMING OUT THIS YEAR"
Colum McCann, winner of the American National Book Award 2009.
"AS I READ GHOST LIGHT, I FOUND MYSELF GOING MORE AND MORE SLOWLY, BECAUSE I DIDN'T WANT TO MISS A SINGLE SENTENCE. I FOUND MYSELF CALLING FRIENDS AND READING PASSAGES ALOUD TO THEM OVER THE PHONE. THIS IS A RARE EXPERIENCE INDEED. IT IS A RARE AND WONDERFUL BOOK."
Michael Cunningham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Hours.