How strange that, while reading this highly intimate and sensual depiction of messy life with small children, there are three of me present. One of course is me, the present reader. Another is me, the distraught and ashamed new mother of long ago. Lastly and more vaguely, there is the naive person I was before children.
Doireann Ní Ghríofa, a sorceress who employs strong visceral language, has called them all forth. She understands her craft because she knows that “The past is always trembling inside the present, whether or not we sense it.” Each of us is a palimpsest.
The text of bearing four children all under the age of 10 has screwed her to the sticking post of motherhood. Her joy lies in ticking off the mass of seemingly endless daily tasks. They are her prayer beads and deep pleasure arises from wiping, wiping, wiping, carrying, taking here, dropping off there, hoisting in and out of car seats, hoovering, hoovering, hoovering, nursing, always nursing, everything gooey. Deep pleasure but also cavernous fatigue.
This ceaseless multi-tasking rebirths an old obsession. She becomes as devoted to unearthing the history of an 18th century Irish woman by the name of Eibhlin Dubh as she is in keeping her little ones afloat. And she really has to dig because history has left almost no trace of this charismatic woman, who wrote an epic poem about the murder of her husband in which she mourns by drinking his blood. Misogyny and primogeniture infect the era. This resurrection gives her purpose.
Ní Ghríofa explains her life as decanted between milk and text and she sips her own dark sustenance from ink.
She gives us her naked psyche throughout. Even though she tells her husband sex is fine post-birth, in reality sex hurts. She wonders why she cannot be honest. From the pen of a lesser writer, her revelations would be embarrassing, but Ní Ghríofa's firm grasp of concrete details combined with a very big intellect raise the horizon. Her teenage disaffection, her car accident, her almost still birth, her breast cancer scare, and again her bottomless fatigue – these are Everywoman.
The night that I finished the book I had an unsettling dream. I was in a very dark cinema with my two-year-old toddler, Hannah. Suddenly I couldn’t find her, and I frantically felt under all the seats in the dark with no luck. I was desperate. Then I went outside into the light and she was there, with her little blue snowsuit on alive and well. The past lives on in us and does tremble just below the surface.
On Sunday July 18, 2:00 p.m. EST (online) The Eden Mills Writers Festival welcomes Emma Donoghue and Doireann Ní Ghríofa for a conversation about writing, research, unearthing the past, self-discovery, motherhood, art, memory, and the importance of amplifying women’s voices on and off the page. Register HERE