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Ghost Light

3.47  ·  Rating details ·  1,335 ratings  ·  229 reviews

1907 Edwardian Dublin, a city of whispers and rumors. At the Abbey Theatre W. B. Yeats is working with the talented John Synge, his resident playwright. It is here that Synge, the author of The Playboy of the Western World and The Tinker’s Wedding, will meet an actress still in her teens named Molly Allgood. Rebellious, irreverent, beautiful, flirtatious, Molly is a g

Hardcover, 246 pages
Published February 1st 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published November 10th 2010)
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3.47  · 
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 ·  1,335 ratings  ·  229 reviews

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May 21, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A delightful bookclub re-read. I am not a fan of love stories, but Ghost light by Joseph O’ Connor (Author of Star of the Sea)Star of the Sea by Joseph O'Connor is wonderfully imagined and a lovely social and political history of Ireland to boot.
Joseph O’ Connor imagines the relationship between actress Molly Allgood (Playboy of the Western World) and playwright John Synge. It was an affair that broken taboos as he was a protestant in his mid thirties and of higher social class and she a catholic, just turned 18 and from a Dubli
Violet wells
Mar 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At the end of life what do we single out and hold up as our finest achievement? For Molly Allgood, an Irish actress, it's her relationship with the playwright John Synge. Ghost Light is narrated, often in the second person, by Molly during a single day at the end of her life. Molly is down on her luck and something of an alcoholic. Therefore, not perhaps the most reliable of narrators. Prone to flights of lyrical beautification, Molly, one suspects, has idealised Synge. What we learn about him, ...more
Aug 09, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Dublin 1907, a young Irish actress embarks on a doomed affair with John Millington Synge, the Irish playwright. In the 1950s an old, impoverished woman makes her way across London, reminscing about her glory days as an acclaimed actress and her relationship with the enigmatic Synge.

This is a demanding read, more like poetry than prose, requiring the reader to slow down and savour every word, even having to reread sections at times. The second person narration also requires some effort on the re
Jan 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Joseph O’Connor has fashioned a marvelous novel, a reimaging of the love affair of John Millington Synge – the famous playwright of Playboy of the Western World and other fine works – and the younger, less well-stationed Molly Allgood, who performed under the name of Maire O’Neill.

“Certain biographers will want to beat me with a turf shovel,” O’Connor states in his aftermath. Indeed, in reading that aftermath, this is not the book for those who are seeking a historically-correct look into these
Brilliant Writing But Difficult Reading

I really enjoyed O'Connor's 'Star of the Sea' and was eager to read 'Ghost Light'. This novel is a fictionalization of the life of Molly Allgood, who was in love with and engaged to John Synge the Irish playwright at the time of his death.

O'Connor introduces us to Molly who is now sixty five years old living in London, the year is 1952. She is alone and lives in a less than desirable part of the city, she drinks gin to ease her mind and sometimes drinks to
Aug 14, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, ireland, theater
Beautiful evocation of Edwardian Dublin and the love affair between playwright J.M. Synge and Abbey Theatre actress Maire O'Neill. The author used complicated tense changes [present for Synge's or Maire's present--1907 until his death for him; the year 1952 for her] and past for each of their pasts. An omnipotent narrator who will be returning from time to time, starts out by addressing Maire as "You" [he/she is talking to her] and we see that in 1952 London, Maire is a has-been actress and alco ...more
This is the first book by Joseph O’Connor (yes, he’s the brother of Sinead O’Connor) I’ve read, but I can tell you, it won’t be the last. I loved Ghost Light, and I intend on investigating this wonderful Irish author further. Joseph O’Connor’s writing runs the gamut from non-fiction and journalism to screenplays, stage plays, and novels, of which Ghost Light is his seventh.

Ghost Light revolves around the great Irish playwright (and co-founder, with William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory, of Dubli
Bonnie Brody
Feb 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor is a brilliant and complex book. It is one of the best books I have read in the last five years. The language is poetic and hallucinatory and this is a book where one can't skip passages or lines. Every word is necessary and the whole is a gift put together with the greatest care and love.

The novel is about a grand love affair between Molly Allgood, an actress (stage name Maire O'Neill) and the playwright John Synge, most well-known for his play, Playboy of the Wes
Aug 03, 2010 rated it it was ok
There are some really wonderful, evocative lines & passages in this book, but at page 109, I'm generally bored. I don't really feel any connection between the 2 main characters, just as in the main I feel that I am reading words, rather than being caught up in a story, a life, someone's actual thoughts & experiences. Perhaps that's what the author intends- after all the 2 'lovers' are an actress & he trying to comment on/evoke the notion of them living as if in a play. ...more
Mar 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me a few attempts to get into it but I blame that on lack of sleep rather than the book itself. The style of writing requires slow reading and a lot of concentration so that you don't miss any of the beautifully written prose. The main character is Molly Allgood, an Irish actress living in London with little money at her disposal. The book reminises about her life and her relationship with Synge. Through the course of the book we realise that Molly is the ever optimist and even though sh ...more
Jude Brigley
Mar 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
At first, I was disappointed by the novel but I soon realised I was wrong. It is ostensibly about Molly, Synge's lover but it is also about old age, memory, moments in time, our lives and the living of them. Our awareness of beauty, pain and the natural world. It is about the comforts of being human and the indominatable spirit of people. I loved it.It is so well-written and structured. A delight!
May 10, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had a really hard time getting through this book. The abstract had me all excited to read the story of John Millington Synge and the woman he was engaged to at the time of his death, but that felt more like the secondary plot of Ghost Light.

The story is told through the eyes of Synge's fiancée, Molly Allgood, a.k.a. Maire O'Neill. We follow her through a drunken day in London, and every so often she breaks through her alcoholic haze and gives us glimpses into her past. We see her as an up-and
Aug 21, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Is 'hated it' too strong a statement? I made a very important decision half way through - I decided to give up! I weighed up the pros and cons and realised not only is life too short to stuff a mushroom - it's also too short to wade through treacle! It's extremely rare that I give up on a book - the last one being around 2003... but I found this just didn't work for me on any level - yes, it's poetic/lyrical but if I want to read a poem I'll pick up a book of poetry - by the time you've digested ...more
Jul 04, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I really didn't enjoy this book. I felt that the story didn't flow and it didn't help that it was written as if you are talking to the main character and recounting her story back to her. There were a lot of loose ends in that many of the characters were never fleshed out (ie the main characters daughter, son, husband). I found it hard to like any of the characters and only had a bit of empathy towards the end. I found it a very irritating read and struggled to finish it. Very disappointing.
Jun 17, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This evocative novel is an imagining of the love affair between John Synge, the Irish playwright, and Molly Allgood, the actress. The relationship is plagued by differences in age and class but there is a meeting of their spirits that lets them persist in spite of the difficulties. The novel is beautifully written and give a wonderful sense of place in postwar London. The shifting time periods and language made it hard for me to truly connect with the characters. There are a few truly touching m ...more
Kasa Cotugno
Feb 11, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: arc
I chose this book based on a rave blurb by Danny Boyle, but wish I'd read further about the theme. This is a genre that I hardly ever read, and very seldom enjoy: fictionalized biographies where the author admittedly takes liberties with fact. Even one as well written as Ghost Light contains certain limitations that are hard to overlook. The potential is here for a ripping good story since the theater is a notorious hotbed of passions and intrigue, with interesting personalities to flesh it out. ...more
Mar 12, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2-star
I admit, I probably didn't give it a chance. As soon as I noticed the gimmicky way of writing I skim read the book. I just can't help it, I can imagine the author of the book going "Ooh, this will win lot of awards, I put together some quirky stuff with no commas in random order. Yeah, that'll do it."
Jun 22, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not his best book. I liked it but I found it rather bitty. The story line didn’t always cohere for me
Karen Mardahl
Mar 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I stumbled across this book quite by chance. Some librarian had placed it face out on one of the library shelves to attract attention. I checked it out without knowing what it was about. Why? I was fascinated that the blurbs on the back of the book just raved about the beautiful writing - that they read it for the sheer pleasure. That intrigued me. The idea of reading a book where every sentence and every word was carefully crafted sounded lovely.

I was not disappointed.

The book is a fiction stor
Nov 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
“In the top floor room of the dilapidated townhouse across the Terrace, a light has been on all night.” – this is how Joseph O’Connor opens his novel Ghost Light.
Ghost Light was a book that squeezed me by the heart several times. I was left restless and facing emotions I did not want to face while reading it, because of the richness of its style, the masterful narration, and the vivid characters. The scenes describing Marie O’Neill as a poor alcoholic who is left to the elements, so to speak, we
Mar 31, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
Having read and loved, Joseph O'Connors, 'Star of the Sea',only to be then disappointed by 'The Salesman',I decided to read Ghost Light hoping to find the wonderful storytelling and writing I found in Star of the sea. To be honest, I found this book very slow at the start and felt I was not enjoying it when suddenly half way through I realised I was engrossed by the character of Molly Allgood who we read about as a young,beautiful and naive actress who falls in love with renowned Irish playwrite ...more
Jean Carlton
May 31, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ireland
I learned of O'Connor in my search to read more about Ireland. One review I read mentions it being the kind of book where you find yourself reading passages aloud to someone; reading and rereading sentences. It happened to me. Fiction but based on the noted Irish playwright and novelist J. M. Synge and his young lover, Molly, I now also have an interest in learning more about Synge who died at age 37. and I will read more by O'Connor.
I gave up recording quotes I liked..there were too many - som
Mary Lawrence
Aug 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Joseph O'Connor continues to be one of my favorite authors. His prose is beautiful, it sparkles with originality. Ghost light features Molly Allgood, an actress engaged to Irish playwright John Synge and the inspiration for his character 'Pegeen' in The Playboy of the Western World.

Not meant to be taken as fact, O'Connor imagines their affair and takes it from their first meeting to Allgood's final day. Irreverent and competitive with her older sister, also an actress, we follow Molly through he
Claudia Douris
Aug 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Another brilliant novel by Joseph O'Connor...Tells the story of the young actress Molly Allgood who has an ongoing realtionship with the Irish Playwright, John Synge who is at the very least a troubled genius. This is a profoundly moving and ultimately uplifting book. It should be considered for the Booker Award this year.
Dec 31, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
*An old miner kissing her hand. Coal dust under his fingernails. Withered shamrock in his cap. You peer at your bony knuckles, see the fossil of a bird's wing. Can they remember they were once kissed in Pennsylvania?
*You listen for his forgiveness as you stand in the street and it comes to you in the stillness of the snow on the railings.
Oct 28, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was one of the rare times I gave up on a book before the halfway point. Between the main character's mind drifting in and out of the present, and the fractured narrative, I just couldn't do it.
Feb 19, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Very disappointing - apparently you "get" this book only if you know Irish playwright John Synge...which I don't
I think this book probably deserves more than one star but I found it really tiresome after reading too many similar books. Cliches and stereotypes are based on fact, but they are still boring.
Sep 12, 2011 rated it did not like it
I couldn't even finish the book it was that bad. That's a first for me.
Jan 28, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful writing, but I don't believe anyone ever talked liked most of the characters in this book most of the time ever. I also didn't believe a lot of Molly's inner narrative. This book was written from a very male point of view despite its use of a female narrator/protagonist, and a view heavily borrowed from James Joyce at that (particularly, Joyce's rendering of Molly Bloom in Ulysses). I would like to read one or two more of O'Connor's books to see what his writing style is generally like ...more
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There is more than one author with this name

Joseph O’Connor was born in Dublin. He is the author of the novels Cowboys and Indians (short-listed for the Whitbread Prize), Desperadoes , The Salesman , Inishowen , Star of the Sea and Redemption Falls , as well as a number of bestselling works of non-fiction.

He was recently voted ‘Irish Writer of the Decade’ by the readers of Hot Press magazi
“But why would they do that? What is to be asked? He was a man who sees into things -- very ordinary things. A hat left on the floor of a café in Kingstown, a proverb overheard, an old fisherman mending a net: these, for him, were a kind of incitement. There are no answers other than that. He was not like the rest of us. Not even like himself. His imagination, or soul, or whatever province of his mind was hungry for the sustaining rain of the world, would soak in the storms of his own haunted strangeness, and the berries would bloom, and they were what they were, and if the tendrils were peculiar, and some of them wild, the fruits were so shockingly luscious and potent that the thirsty were willing to savour the bitter for the sake of the concomitant sweet. He needed the very ordinary. He was a beautiful man. What more than this need be said? The sort of man who makes you think the movement of foliage might be causing the breeze.” 6 likes
“Happy as a threaded needle” 4 likes
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