Joseph O’Connor’s Ghost Light dealt with a relationship in the life of the playwright John Millington Synge. Shadowplay deals with a period in the life of another Irish literary figure, Bram Stoker.
In a novel that shifts back and forth over a 30-year time period, Stoker goes to work as general manager for the Lyceum Theater in London, having been hired by Henry Irving, the greatest Shakespearean actor of his time. Stoker has taken what he believes is a part-time job that will allow him to work on his fiction, but he finds himself assuming responsibility for everything in the theater, an overwhelming position. Further, he has to cope with his employer’s extravagance and his occasional wild rages. Worse, Irving is dismissive of Stoker’s literary efforts. Nevertheless, they form a lasting friendship.
Also involved in the theater is the famous actress Ellen Terry. Shadowplay is primarily about the enduring relationship between these three. However, it reflects other events of its time, particularly Jack the Ripper and the trial of Oscar Wilde. It deals with Stoker’s struggles to earn a living as a writer, a feat he never accomplished. And it has a ghost.
Shadowplay, which I read for my Walter Scott project, was involving and interesting.
The Children’s Book
Best Book of the Week!
The Irish playwright John Millington Synge was engaged to marry an actress, Molly Allgood, when he died in 1909. Their relationship was of several years’ standing, but it was considered scandalous because of the difference in their ages and stations. Synge was nearly twice as old as Molly, and Molly was from a poor and uncultured family.
Ghost Light is a fictionalized account of this relationship, and O’Connor freely admits to taking liberties with it. The novel begins in 1952, when Molly is an old lady, nearly destitute and living in a cheap rooming house in London. The story follows her for one night and day of her life, during which she remembers the events in her love affair with Synge.
This novel is beautifully and atmospherically written, poetic at times, and partially in different flavors of Irish vernacular. It eloquently tells a story of frustrated love and loss. This is a compelling characterization of Molly and her view of the character of Synge. Ghost Light has been another interesting experience from my Walter Scott Prize list.