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    "What happened to me?''
        -Nuala O'Faolain, Are You Somebody ? : The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman

This was, without a doubt, the most depressing, anti-human book I've ever read (well, actually, listened to).  Kathleen de Burca, a travel writer, has fled an unhappy childhood in her native Ireland, only to find an unhappy adulthood in England.  She has almost no friends and seems never to have loved or been loved.  Instead she engages in innumerable casual couplings, fueled by nothing but physical desire :

    I believed in passion the way other people believed in God: everything fell in place around it.

But now, as she approaches fifty, she faces the possibility that even this sexual consolation will dry up :
 

                        But then I thought, Isn't it some kind
                        of good, that a person can be shocked into truthfulness, even if it's only for a
                        few hours and only with herself? I sat in the thick night air of the plane and I
                        thought, If anyone had said to you, all these years, are you interested in sex?
                        you'd have said, haughtily, No. I'm interested in passion. Passion. I murmured
                        the word half out loud. What passion? It was never real excitement that got you
                        into bed; it was hope, like some stubborn underground weed. Look at the way
                        you've believed every time, at the first brush of a hand across a breast, that the
                        roof over your life was sliding back and a dazzling, starry firmament was just
                        coming into view. When it never happened. When a one-night stand has never,
                        in all the years, done what you wanted it to do. What's more, the whole thing is
                        getting more and more pathetic. The truth is, I said to myself, that the older you
                        get, the more grateful you are for being wanted on any terms, by anybody.

                        But if I stopped all that, how would I ever meet anyone? If I didn't have this
                        kind of sex life, I'd have none! Then I thought, But should it even be called sex?
                        Look at the businessman in Harare. You're not even giving them any pleasure
                        anymore, never mind getting any for yourself.

Pathetic ?  Pathetic doesn't even begin to cover it, sweetie.

Finally becoming dissatisfied with her utterly meaningless existence, and shocked out of her torpor by the death of a gay male coworker, Kathleen returns to Ireland.  But things go no better there as she squabbles with sisters, gets involved with a married man, and rages against the country's anti-abortion laws.  Apparently, the lot of Ireland's universally unhappy women would be infinitely better if only they could terminate their unwanted pregnancies.  In fact, it's not merely the children who are wrecking their lives, I lost track of how many women in the book have some kind of disease of the womb; their very womanhood is killing them.  A whole lot of other nonsense goes on, but by then I plunged deep into a suicidal fugue state...

Lest you think I'm overstating the case here, allow me to submit in my defense this quote from a profile of O'Faolain in The Guardian :

    'I can't wait to be an old lady,' she says. 'I'm dying to wither up so I can stop hurting.'

For God's sake, someone put the old girl out of her misery, or at the very least out of ours.  This one has Oprah Book Club written all over it.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (D)

  

Websites:

See also:

Irish Literature
Book-related and General Links:
    -BOOK SITE : Are You Somebody (Henry Holt)
    -EXCERPT : Chapter 1 of My Dream of You
    -EXCERPT : from Are You Somebody
    -ESSAY : Memories of Saint Patrick's Day (Nuala O'Faolain, Emigrant Online)
    -ESSAY : Moved to write on gender relations (Nuala O'Faolain, July 28, 1997, Irish Times)
    -ESSAY : An Irishman's Diary (Kevin Myers, December 16, 2000, Irish Times)
    -ESSAY : O'Faolain exposes the dishonesty of feminisma (John Waters, December 18, 2000, Irish Times)
    -ESSAY : Defending fatherhood not attacking feminism  (John Waters, August 05, 1997, Irish Times)
    -DISCUSSION : The following is a transcript of a conversation by phone between Nuala O'Faolain and Pulitzer prize-winning author Frank McCourt, author of Angela's Ashes, celebrating the US publication of O'Faolain's bestselling memoir Are You Somebody. Their conversation took place on February 12, 1998 (Henry Holt)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW : Nuala O'Faolain (Fresh Air, NPR)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW :  (Victoria Lautman, Eight Forty-Eight, WBEZ)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW : Living Alone. : Original Airdate: 2/3/99. The Irish journalist Nuala O'Faolain grew up in a culture that assumed she would have a better half.  But she's alone. In her fifties. As are so many other men and women, who didn't expect to be. She's not unhappy, but she can't help asking, 'What happened to me?' Nuala O'Faolain is the author of "Are You Somebody. (The Connection)
    -INTERVIEW : Nuala O'Faolain: The Girl of Her Dreams (Yvonne Nolan -- 3/12/01, Publishers' weekly)
    -INTERVIEW : Irish writer explores love and longing among the 'overlooked'  (Ellen Kanner , Feb. 2001, Book Page)
    -CHAT : Transcript: Visions of Europe Roundtable : Oxford University historian Timothy Garton Ash, Irish Times columnist and author Nuala O'Faolain and TIME International Editor James Geary discuss the issues facing Europe at the eve of the 21st century. Transcript from Jan. 20, 1999 (TIME International)
    -PROFILE : A Thorny Irish Rose : Nuala O'Faolain's memoir became a surprise best seller. Now there's a new novel from the woman whose blunt talk about sex, religion and the hypocrisies of her homeland made her a star (DAPHNE MERKIN, The New York Times Magazine, Feb. 18, 2001)
    -PROFILE : Accidental heroine : When her extraordinarily intimate memoir caught the public's imagination, Nuala O'Faolain became an overnight sensation. On the eve of the publication of her first novel, the outspoken Irish columnist talks to Daphne Merkin about illicit love, alcohol and the advantages of being a late starter (April 8, 2001, Guardian Unlimited)
    -PROFILE : When Prince Charming never comes (Marilyn Gardner, The Christian Science Monitor)
    -PROFILE :   (Judith Rosen, Publishers' Weekly)
    -PROFILE : Nuala O'Faolain finds passion in words (Kerry Taylor, The Age)
    -ARCHIVES : "Nuala O'Faolain" (Salon)
    -ARCHIVES : Nuala O'Faolain (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : Nuala O'Faolain (Mag Portal)
    -REVIEW : of MY DREAM OF YOU By Nuala O'Faolain (Catherine Lockerbie, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain (Helen Falconer, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW : of My Dream of You (Margaret A. McGurk, Cincinnati Enquirer)
    -REVIEW : of  My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain (Renata Golden, Houston Chronicle)
    -REVIEW : of  My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain (Charles Taylor, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of  My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain (DANIEL MENDELSOHN, New York Magazine)
    -REVIEW : of  My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain (KATHLEEN OCHSHORN, St. Petersburg Times)
    -REVIEW : of  My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain (Catherine Keenan, Sydney Morning Herald)
    -REVIEW : of  My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain (LYNN FREED,  The Washington Post)
    -REVIEW : of  My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain (Pauline Ferrie, Bookview Ireland)
    -REVIEW : of My Dream of You (Sofrina Hinton, Book Reporter)
    -REVIEW : of ARE YOU SOMEBODY The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman. By Nuala O'Faolain (Zoe Heller, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Are You Somebody ? (Bob Minzesheimer, USA TODAY)
    -REVIEW : of Are You Somebody ? (G. K. Nelson, Savoy Magazine)
    -REVIEW : of Are You Somebody (Colleen Dougher-Telcik, City Link)
    -REVIEW : of Are You Somebody ? (Suzanne Barrett, About.com)
 

GENERAL :
    -ESSAY : The Suffering Irish : What will Erin's literary artists write about now that their motherland has found its pot of gold?  (Daniel Reitz , Salon)

Comments:

I go back to Are You Somebody? whenever there has been one too many crisis. Nuala is a gifted writer and as a person, a gift to humanity in general and women in particular. Life is messy. Nuala courageously shared her story w/ great honesty. I have personally derived great comfort from Nuala's story.

- Elizabeth Jean Jones

- Nov-20-2004, 10:58

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