My Life in the Books: Nuala O’Connor
Nuala O’Connor, born in Dublin in 1970, lives in County Galway. Her fifth novel NORA (Harper Perennial/New Island), about Nora Barnacle, has recently been published to critical acclaim in the United States, Ireland, Great Britain and Germany, and is forthcoming in other languages. . Named one of the New York Times’ Top 10 Historical Novels of 2021, it’s also the One Dublin One Book Pick for 2022. O’Connor is editor of the flash fiction e-zine Splonk.
Right now, a book about loving the skin we’re in, called body happy kids, which is as much for me as it is for my family. Also several books that I am blurring or revising. And Virginia Woolf Diary of a writer – the comforting reading that always makes me happy.
Your book of the year?
When we were birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo is a beautifully written debut novel, with touches of magical realism, that delves into grief, death, love and self-knowledge. Set in contemporary Trinity, it has two magnetic central characters, Darwin and Yejide. I liked it.
Your favorite literary character?
Right now, a girl called Little, in Edward Carey’s book of the same name – a determined young girl in revolutionary France who grows up to be Madame Tussaud. I love his courage and his unusual way of telling his strange story.
The first book you remember?
We didn’t have many children, but we had tons of books. I loved the 1970s Ladybird storybooks and fables, illustrated by Eric Winter. Rapunzel and Rumpelstiltskin [The Brothers Grimm] gave me a lot to think about. I loved the images as much as the texts – they were so intimate and they evoked dark worlds.
A book that changed your life?
I read Stop like a woman by Holly Whitaker 18 months ago, having been sober-curious for ages, and that convinced me to try a life without alcohol, and so far so good. The book is full of great ideas about the alcohol industry, the downsides of drinking, and helpful motivation.
The book you couldn’t finish?
A book that I have tried and tried to finish is Louisa May Alcott’s Little woman. I wish I had read it when I was a kid. I’ve enjoyed the many TV series and movies made from them, but I find the novel itself too sweet and difficult to understand.
Your comfort Covid read?
My reading decreased and my impatience grew; I finished a few books, but not as many as normal. Still, I loved Eibhear Walshe The last day at Bowen’s Court, a tender and heartbreaking novel about Elizabeth Bowen and her great love, Canadian diplomat Charles Ritchie.
The book you are giving as a gift?
I adapt the books according to the reader. The last gift book I gave was Anne Frank Logbook to my 12 year old daughter, Juno, because I remember loving Anne’s heartbreaking and intriguing story at her age. Juno and I talk about the book, the Holocaust, and now, sadly, the new war in Europe.
The writer who shaped you?
There are so many, but the real living Irish women writers who were before my eyes when I started over 20 years ago were hugely influential both for their brilliant writing and for their grace and courage: Lia Mills, Mary O’Donnell, Eilís Ní Dhuibhne, Anne Enright, Mary Morrissy, Evelyn Conlon, Catherine Dunne and many more.
Which book would you most like to be remembered for?
nora is the book I feel like I was made to write, as a Dub who lives in Galway, and an enthusiast of [James] Joyce. I loved researching, writing and promoting it, which is the triple whammy – not all books offer these pleasures. It’s also given me great opportunities, like curating ‘Love, Says Bloom’ about the Joyce family for #Ulysses 100, currently at MoLI.