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3 Books by Nuala O'Faolain

Are Your SomebodyNualo O”Faolain came onto the literary scene in her fifties with a brutally honest Are You Somebody, her personal midlife exploration of self-discovery, love, pain, loneliness, warts and all look at her life. The title of the book comes from her small fame as an Irish radio personality and columnist. The question strangers would ask of her “are you somebody?”, she turns on herself to examine her life. It’s a very Irish book, full of the quirks and idiosyncrasies that shadowed growing up in Ireland post world war II. As an Irish woman, this book resonated with me and I found myself wanting to tell Nuala… “me too, that’s how I feel.” I wasn’t alone in this sense of connecting with her as a woman and writer. She attracted a huge fan base of women of a certain age who identified with her story and struggles.

My Dream of YouHer second literary venture is my all time favorite novel. My Dream of You. Finally, I thought as I dove into the thick book on a transatlantic flight, a woman not afraid to write about women over 50 and certainly not afraid to present a flawed heroine. It’s a story filled with longing and regret. Kathleen de Burca, a travel writer on the verge of 50, returns to her native Ireland in search of something she longs for but can’t put a name to. Her story is intertwined with that of the wife of a British landowner during the potato famine. The woman is disgraced for an affair with a groom, her life ruined. I grew up in a home where nobody spoke of the famine…it was as though it never happened O’Faolin’s research and vivid retelling of this hidden Irish history is shockingly graphic and heartbreaking. Kathleen herself embarks on an affair with a married man and later articles made clear that much of this novel aligns closely with O’Faolin’s own search for passion and meaning in her life. Perhaps it’s that autobiographical thread that makes Kathleen de Burca such a fully fleshed woman. I defy anyone over 50 not to identify with her on her pilgrimage in search of self and feeling; oh, why be coy…Kathleen is in search of her libido.

Her third book, Almost There - The Onward Journey of a Dublin Woman, (2003) describes how her literary fame changed her life. She takes from the thousands of stories women shared with her, following Are You Somebody, delves further into the mysteries, agonies and joys of middle age. She doesn’t hesitate to describe her quest for romance and how she met a man who became integral to her life through Match.com. She writes of her struggle to allow herself some self-respect and to gain self-confidence. Then, early this year, she was diagnosed with lung cancer and given a very short time to live. In one of the most gut-wrenching interviews I have ever heard, she allowed herself to be interviewed on an Irish radio program and spoke candidly of her anger, disappointment that she was facing an early death. “I thought there would be me and the world, but the world turned its back on me,” she said. “The world said to me, ‘That’s enough of you now, and what’s more, we’re not going to give you any little treats at the end.” She declined treatment, preferring instead to live out her final weeks traveling with family and close friends and died May 11th, 2008.

The Story of Chicago MayA fourth book, The Story of Chicago May, sits on my shelf. I have yet to bring myself to read it knowing that it's the last I will read by this witty, frank, beautiful woman.

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