Thursday, July 15, 2010

With Reverent Hands: My Dream of You

With Reverent Hands

I bring you with reverent hands / the books of my numberless dreams.
-WB Yeats, "A Poet To His Beloved"

WB Yeats, I'm sure, gave books to his beloved that he valued highly himself, and that he handled with reverence.  If you had to recommend a book you revered to someone, what would it be?
I'm asking you to highlight one book.  One book that you adore, that you prize, that changed your life, that you would save from a burning building, that you found serendipitously on a library shelf or at a used bookstore, looking lonely and ignored.  A book that thrills you but that, you have come to realize, no one else has really ever heard of, much less read.  With Reverent Hands is all about those books- the ones that deserve a wider audience than they are given and that you want everyone to go out and read, even if they are out of print.

If you would like to participate in the With Reverent Hands series, please comment on this post with a way to contact you and I will send you a template!

This edition of With Reverent Hands is brought to you by Lisa, who blogs at bibliophiliac.  Lisa describes herself as a "passionate, voracious reader," and her blog stands testament to that.  Even though she just started last year, she already has posted 94 times this year!  Seems like she's here to stay, and I am
quite happy about that.  Here's Lisa's choice for a book she thinks you should pick up!  She had me with the comparison to Possession.

What book are you highlighting?
My Dream of You by Irish writer Nuala O'Faolain

My Dream of YouWhen did you first read it?
When the novel was first published, in 2001.  I was teaching high school English during the day, and working as a bookseller weekends and evenings.  The book just resonated for me.

What is it about?  Please give a brief summary.
The main character, Kathleen de Burca is an Irish travel writer living in London.  She suffers a life crisis--the death of a friend--and returns to Ireland to investigate an Irish divorce case from 1856 (the case is a real historical event, and O'Faolain quotes from the actual divorce proceedings).  While in Ireland, Kathleen looks honestly at her life, her loneliness, and her real desire:  for passion.  Her return to Ireland also leads Kathleen to reexamine her personal past, even as she is researching the story of the Talbot divorce.  During her time in Ireland, Kathleen meets a lover who presents her with a choice, and perhaps an opportunity to discover the passion that has eluded her in life.

What makes the book stand out to you?  Why do you love it?
The character of Kathleen is so real:  she is honest with herself, and has a sense of humor about her shortcomings.  She is in middle age, and hasn't made much of her life, and takes a risk to try to change that.  I think I just fell in love with the voice of the character, and with O'Faolain's unvarnished, realistic take on life that still somehow has this romanticism, this desire for passion.  I also love the narrative structure of the book:  a contemporary character investigates writings from another historical time period.  Kathleen tries to investigate and understand what happened in the Talbot divorce case, at the same time that she is investigating her own emotional and romantic history.  And the fact that the Talbot case was real, and that the documents in the novel were historical added to the interest.  O'Faolain also wrote a brief memoir called Are You Somebody? Her ability to be brutally honest about her own life, her shortcomings, her loneliness, is stunning.  Some of that emotional honesty comes through in O'Faolain's fiction, too.

Please finish this analogy:  If you liked ________, you’ll probably enjoy this book.
If you liked Possession by A.S. Byatt, you'll probably enjoy this book.

What sort of person would you recommend to read this book?
Readers who have a taste for literature from the past, but who also appreciate a character who is acerbic, irreverent, and virtually without any illusions of any kind.  If you like character-driven novels, with self-reflective protagonists, you might like this book.  I realize my description might sound off-putting.  The writing is intelligent, observant and witty, but there is very little of romantic illusion or wish-fulfillment.  I might compare this novel to works by Anita Brookner, A.S. Byatt or Jean Rhys, all writers I admire.

Do you have any quotes you would like to share?
I was interested, always, in any story about passion, so I was interested in Mrs. Talbot and William Mullan.  I believed in passion the way other people believed in God:  everything fell into place around it.


  1. Hmmm... I couldn't quite get through Possession, but I'll read anything about Ireland... I may have to try this one!

  2. I think I may have come across this one once or twice and thought bout reading it one day

  3. Oh! I have this book on my shelf and have for quite awhile now. I am going to have to pull it out and open it up, as it sounds like it's a great read! The comparison to Possession is what got me too, Aarti!

  4. Anonymous7/18/2010

    This sounds really interesting :) And even though I haven't read any Byatt yet, the comparison made this book seem all the better.


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