Brandi's Reviews > My Dream of You

My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain
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's review
Dec 10, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: irish-literature
Read from September 20 to 25, 2013

My first read was 8-13 May 2012.
Second read: 20-25 September 2013. I added a star this time around; having read a lot more Irish literature in the intervening time, and reading it critically for my PhD thesis, I was able to engage with the text on a much deeper level, and it meant a lot more to me this time.

Nuala O’Faolain’s My Dream of You reads like lyric poetry. The reader is transported through 500 pages of beautifully articulated sensations, feelings and images – “All along that stretch of the road flickering polka-dot light danced down through the lacy young branches of the beech trees, and it danced on them” (220). As other reviewers have mentioned, the plot is nothing to speak of, but it truly isn’t supposed to be – as a novel predicated on the narrator’s personal development, we are skillfully lead through her memories and insights in a disjointed narrative reminiscent of our own thought processes.

I also appreciated O’Faolain’s thoughtful exploration of “what it means to be Irish.” Kathleen seems to have inherited her father’s Irish patriotism even while she professes to hate everything about him, and to resent his neglect of his family “for Ireland.” For instance, even though Kathleen’s brother Danny “lived for” soccer, their father “was actively hostile to soccer. He believed so strongly that Gaelic football was the real, native football, and that soccer was an English imposition that when the soccer club needed the loan of the Gaelic pitch for a charity match, he brought pressure through Irish-language circles in Dublin to stop the pitch being lent” (461). Kathleen’s patriotism, meanwhile, is the exact opposite insofar as Ireland to her is people rather than abstract principles. She explores the significance of the Famine through recreating the stories of the Talbots and their servants – humanizing history, as it were.

While there is so much to love about this book, my reasons for giving it a three-star rating are highly personal and probably somewhat illogical. While the disjointed narrative makes sense for what she's trying to accomplish, I prefer something more tightly connected. This is not to say that I need a book to be plot-driven to enjoy it (though reading this after binging on detective fiction is a bit jarring), but I would have liked her to explore what those aforementioned sensations, feelings and images mean (without having to say, definitively, that it means one thing), rather than simply present them and let the reader make all the important connections. She could at least start the discussion, in other words.

I also found it difficult to relate to a character so bitterly pessimistic: “I was so primed for enduring grief that I could hardly imagine anything important happening to me that wasn’t going to make me unhappy. I became unhappy; then I was sorry for myself for being unhappy; then I despised myself for my self-pity” (401-2). The point of the book is her development, sure, but it was a process that I couldn’t relate to myself, making it harder for me to understand her motivations at times. Then again, I might just be too young; I can’t image that I fit into the target audience for this book at 23.
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Reading Progress

05/08/2012 page 65
09/19/2013 marked as: currently-reading
09/26/2013 marked as: read
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