In bed-and-breakfasts across Ireland, Nuala O’Faolain would meet women who “throw sugar on the fire, to get it to light, and wipe surfaces with an old rag that smells, and they are forever sending children to the shops.” Then they would turn and question O’Faolain: “And did you never want to get married yourself?” For any one who has stayed in those same bed-and-breakfasts and has the desire to move from the guest’s sitting room into the family’s kitchen, O’Faolain’s memoir Are You Somebody? is just the ticket.
Yes, it is a sad story. Born the second of nine neglected children to an alcoholic mother and a philandering father, Nuala’s refuge was the word. In fact, when she was asked to list the most important events of her life, being born came up as number one, and learning to read was number two.
She read her way through a scholarship to University College, Dublin,followed by another scholarship in Medieval English at the University of Hull in England, followed by another which took her to Oxford. Along the way, Nuala rubs elbows with Philip Larkin, John Berger, Kingsley Amis, Seamus Heaney, J.B. Preistley, among others.You may be wondering where the sad comes in.
Nuala O’Faolain is a woman who came of age the early 60′s in Ireland.Caught between the emerging woman’s movement and a country that outlawed divorce, Nuala struggled. After spending the night with her lover at one ill-reputed boardinghouse in the suburbs of Dublin, a carload of Catholic vigilantes crawled beside her as she walked towards the bus stop. Irish girls just didn’t do this sort of thing. Nuala did it a lot. In fact, at times she comes across as the Irish version of Moll Flanders. Until she paused to write an introduction to a collection of her columns from the Irish Times, Nuala had never stood back and taken a good look at herself. The Irish Times readers knew her as an opinion columnist with a confident voice; daughter of a well-known Irish journalist, Terry O’Sullivan. However, Nuala realizes “My private life was solitary. My private voice was apologetic…I had no lover, no child.”
In her memoir she comes to terms with her private life and her apologetic voice.
This book is not a sentimental portrayal of an Irish woman. It is not rich in the Irish English idiom, as we get from the likes of Frank McCourt. Are You Somebody? will not will not make you run to your travel agent and purchase a one-way ticket to Dublin. However, in the reading of this book you come to know her and her Ireland, which in the end, she holds very close to her heart.