As regular readers may remember, I raved about the documentary Nuala when it was first shown over two years ago on RTE. The film has since gone on to win many accolades at home and abroad, including awards at the Vancouver International Film Festival, Palm Springs Film Festival and the Dublin Jameson International Film Festival.
After we watched the film, my father bought a copy of O’Faolain’s memoir Are You Somebody? and when he had finished reading it he passed it on to me. It languished on my shelves for over eighteen months until I took it down a couple of Sundays ago, having nothing by my bedside to read.
Are You Somebody? (first published in 1996) tells Nuala’s story from her beginnings as one of nine children growing up in genteel poverty with her alcoholic mother and absent father, to her days as a student in Trinity and her early love affairs, through to her later days working as a producer and journalist in Dublin and living with her partner Nell McCafferty. The memoir also details attitudes to women in Ireland at the time. The only option for women in patriarchal Ireland of old was breeding and slavery in the form of marriage and housework. O’Faolain wanted more for herself. She wanted a life of the mind, she wanted to be free to have adventures, and she consciously decided not to have children in order to facilitate her dreams.
Although I knew much of this information from the documentary, it’s a whole other experience reading it direct from Nuala. Her warmth and lack of self-pity, her humility and great capacity for humour make it a very enjoyable book. I especially loved the sections where she rhapsodises about literature and its healing effect on her spirits; how she could be transported by a piece of epic poetry or a classic novel. It’s rare to read about another person’s passion for literature and O’Faolain’s enthusiasm for the written word is contagious.
Are You Somebody? is as much a mirror of the times and society O’Faolain lived in as it is a personal memoir. This particular period of Irish history filtered through O’Faolain’s inquisitive, rebellious and charismatic personality makes for a very engaging read. Highly recommended.