literary journalism

Nuala O’Connor’s ‘Nora’

I had the pleasure of a pilgrimage to Dublin one year for Bloomsday, replete with the requisite pint at Davy Byrne’s, soap from Sweny’s and a Sandycove swim. James Joyce set Ulysses on the sixteenth of June 1904 as a tribute to the day he first ‘walked out’ with Nora Barnacle. In her fifth novel, Nuala O’Connor recounts Nora’s life from that fateful rendezvous. A portion of Nora first appeared in Granta as a short story, ‘Gooseen’, which won the 2018 Short Fiction Prize.

Joycean Dublin is well-trodden ground, not least by Edna O’Brien, but O’Connor keeps the story fresh with the vivid language of her fictionalized biography. A chambermaid from Galway, Nora’s voice is frank and earthy. “The river smells like a pisspot spilling its muck into the sea,” she tells Jim as they walk along the Liffey. Although objecting to the “sleazy little scenes” in his novels, Nora, on whom ‘bawdy’ Molly Bloom was modelled, is lusty: “our two mouths crash together and it’s all swollen tongues and drippy spit and our fronts pressed hard and a tight-bunched feeling between my legs. His hands travel over my bodice and squeeze, making me gasp”. Jim then pulls his ‘one-eyed maneen’ out of his trousers and she kneels. (We are, mind you, only on page one)…

Read the review online in the Irish Times

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