Thursday, June 15, 2006

My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain

From the Back Cover:

When Kathleen de Burca, her life in crisis, returns to her native Ireland, she is in search of the truth behind the story of a love so passionate it burnt its way through barriers of class and culture. In so doing, she not only travels back to the Ireland of the 1850s and into the heart of a tragic love story, but also starts to examine her own troubled past. Then, finding a love of her own, Kathleen faces a choice which could changer her life profoundly, and discovers just how powerful the human heart is...

I was reading this book for a group read and thought it sounded quite good, and in the end it was, but it wasn't an easy read for me. In fact, if I hadn't been reading with the group I probably would have put it down and not picked it up again. It's not that it was a Did Not Finish book really. I would have intended to pick it up again but not really ever got around to it! But then, about 140 pages in suddenly I was hooked and I had to know what happened next! It could be that I just wasn't in the mood for it before that day, but I am not sure.

The main characters is an Irish woman by the name of Kathleen de Burca who has lived in London for over 20 years, makes her living as a travel writer. She has never married, and her closest friends are her work colleagues Jimmy and Alex. Jimmy is a gay travel writer and Alex is her boss who has plenty of surprising secrets of his own. When Jimmy drops dead of a heart attack, Kathleen's life is plunged into crisis, and she decides that it is time for her to change her current lifestyle which involves travelling around the world and sleeping with strangers somewhat indiscriminately.

She decides that she might write a book about the events surrounding a divorce that happened in Ireland in the 1850's and so goes back to Ireland to research what she can about the people involved in the case. She had not been back to Ireland since she left, not even for the funerals of her parents. Whilst there she reconnects with the remaining members of her family, realising along the way that she really doesn't know them at all, as well as making new friends as she researches her story.

There are several different strands to this story. There is the story of Richard and Marianne Talbot, the couple obtaining a divorce in sensational circumstances. Marianne is supposed to have been having a long standing and passionate affair with the head groom, and was being divorced because of that. Another aspect is the effect of the potato famine on the people of Ireland, both during and in the aftermath.

The other strands of the novel focus on Kathleen, as she tries to gain understanding of her life, and why she has acted the way she has, including her failed or difficult relationships: filial, romantic and in her friendships. In her first passionate relationship as a young woman, Kathleen makes poor decisions that end up leading to the relationship failing, and after that point it is almost as though Kathleen has closed herself off from love, rather accepting sex as a shabby substitute.

So when she meets a man named Shay one afternoon, there is passion, there is love, but is she prepared to accept what it is that he has to offer, or is she now strong enough to move forward with her life and to find fulfillment from other avenues.

Apart from the fact that it took me a long time to get into the early parts of this book, it was an entertaining, well written and engrossing read. However, I will have to mark down for that beginning!

Rating 3.5/5

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