Kathleen de Burca is a travel writer based in London. The office is the nearest thing she has to a home. When a quick series of blows strips away the props of her life, she is faced with the frightening imperative of change.
In her crisis she decides to investigate a true story about a relationship so passionate that it burned its way across the barriers of class and culture a scandalous affair between the wife of an English landlord and an Irish servant during the devastation of Ireland's potato famine.
After an absence of thirty years, Kathleen returns to Ireland to research the story and begins a journey that leads her not only into the historical past, but into a reconsideration of the family she fled years ago. While back in Ireland, she meets a lover of her own who presents her with a choice that promises to alter the course of her life. As she moves toward her decision, she calls on the strengths of her identity as a woman, an Irish woman, and a woman who is no longer young. Meanwhile, she brings the story of the long-ago lovers to a denouement as tender as it is tragic.
My Dream of You explores the extremes of passion, the depths of loneliness, and the resilience of the human heart.
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster Audio|
|Edition description:||Abridged, 4 cassettes, 6 hrs. 30 min.|
|Product dimensions:||7.10(w) x 4.16(h) x 1.13(d)|
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Chapter 1By the time I was middle-aged I was well defended against crisis, if it came from outside. I had kept my life even and dry for a long time. I'd been the tenant of a dim basement, half-buried at the back of the Euston Road, for more than twenty years. I didn't like London particularly, except for the TravelWrite office, but I didn't see much of it. Jimmy and I, who were the main writers for the travel section of the NewsWrite syndicate, were on the move all the time. We were never what you'd call explorers; we never went anywhere near war or hunger or even discomfort. And we wrote about every place we went to in a cheerful way: that was the house rule. But we had a good boss. Even if it was the fifth "Paris in Springtime" or the third "Sri Lanka: Isle of Spices," Alex wouldn't let us get away with tired writing. Sometimes Jimmy accused him of foolish perfectionism, because every TravelWrite piece was bought immediately anyway. But having to please Alex was good for us. And then, people do read travel material in a cheerful frame of mind, imagining themselves at leisure and the world at its best. It's an intrinsically optimistic thing, travel. Partly because of that, but mostly because Alex went on caring, I liked my work.
I even liked the basement, in a way, in the end. I don't suppose more than a handful of people ever visited it, in all the time I was there. Jimmy was my close friend and since he'd come to TravelWrite from America he'd lived twenty minutes away, in Soho, but we'd never been inside each other's places. It was understood that if one of us said they were going home, the other didn't ask any questions. Once, early on, he said he was going home, and I happened to see, from the top of the bus, that he had stopped a taxi and was in fact going in the opposite direction. After that, I deliberately didn't look around when we parted. Anyway, my silent rooms were never sweetened by the babble the two of us had perfected over the years. And for a long time, there hadn't been anyone there in the morning when I woke up. Sex was a hotel thing. I don't think I'd have liked to disturb the perfect nothingness of where I lived.
Then a time came when I began to lose control of the evenness and the dryness.
I was waiting for my bag in the arrivals hall at Harare airport when I fell into conversation with the businessman in the exquisite suit who was waiting beside me. Favorite airlines, we were chatting about.
Royal Thai executive class is first-rate, he said.
Ah, don't tell me you fall for all that I-am-your-dusky-handmaiden stuff, I laughed at him.
Those girls really know how to please, he went on earnestly, as if I hadn't spoken at all. And there was a porter with gnarled bare feet asleep on the baggage belt, and when it started with a jolt the poor old man fell off in front of us, and all the businessman did was step back in distaste and then take out a handkerchief and flick it across the glossy toe caps of his shoes as if they'd been polluted. But I accepted his offer of a lift into town, all the same. We were stopped for a moment at a traffic light beside a bar that was rocking with laughter and drumming.
They're very musical, the Africans, he said. Great sense of rhythm.
Just what are you doing, I asked myself, with Mr. Dull here?
I half-knew: no, quarter-knew. But if nothing more had happened I would never have given it a conscious thought.
Men can't allow themselves that vagueness. At his hotel he said, Would you like to come in for a drink? Or would you like to come up to the room while I freshen up? I've rather a good single malt in my bag.
I propped myself against the headrest of his big bed and sipped the Scotch and watched him deploy his neat things-his papers, his radio, his toiletries. When he came out of the bathroom with his shirt off and the top of his trousers open, I was perfectly ready to kiss and embrace. I was dead tired. I'd had a drink. I was completely alone in a foreign country. I was more than willing to hand myself over to someone else.
But very soon I was frowning behind his corpse-white back.
If only I knew how to take charge of this myself, I thought. If I could be the real thing myself, I could bring him with me. . . .
I honestly don't know how any person could make as little of the living body as that man did. Even the best I could do hardly made him exclaim. But he seemed to be delighted with the two of us, afterwards. At least I thought he was. He invited me to have dinner with him the next night, and I accepted, though I didn't much want to struggle through hours of trying to make conversation. I was in a great humor when he saw me into a taxi. It had been human contact, hadn't it? I was a generous woman, wasn't I, if I was nothing else? I hummed as I hung my clothes in the wardrobe of my mock-Tudor guesthouse, under huge jacaranda trees that in the streetlights looked as if their swathes of blossom were black. My favorite thing: a hotel bedroom in a new place.
The phone rang. It was Alex to say that he needed Zimbabwe wildlife copy within forty-eight hours.
I suppose you think that elephants and giraffes just walk around downtown Harare like people do in London? I shouted sarcastically down the phone. I suppose you think they have a game park in this guesthouse where I have just arrived. Then I hung up.
When the phone rang again I picked up, ready to do a deal about the deadline. But it was the businessman.
How are you, my little Irish kitten? he said. I am thinking of you.
Oh, really? I said, embarrassed. Kitten. I was forty-nine.
Unfortunately, he said, I must go out of town.
One hour after I'd been with him! He hadn't even waited till the next day.
And that's what I learned from him-that my heart was still ridiculously alive. I was sincerely hurt. What had I done wrong? I actually swallowed back tears.
And then, he continued, I must go directly back to my office.
There was nothing between the man and me-nothing, not even liking. But because of the memory of some wholeness, or the hope of some regeneration, I would have dropped whatever I'd planned, just to go back to scratching around on his bed.
I cannot go on like this, I said to myself. Tears!
I went on to the east a few days later to do a quick piece about a hot springs resort in the Philippines. I went straight to the famous waterfall, and though the humid, grayish air smelled like weeds rotting in mud and there were boys everywhere along the paths between the flowering trees, begging, or offering themselves as guides, it was possible to see that this was a marvelous spot, with hummingbirds sipping from the green pools that trembled under each fall before silently overflowing and sliding down the smooth rock to the next terrace. It was going to be easy to put a positive spin on the place. I made notes and took photos of the birds for identification, and then I got a bus to Manila. It arrived in the sweltering heat and dust of the evening rush. My hotel was on the far side of a busy dual carriageway. I started across the road, and reached the road divider where there was a bit of a dust-covered low hedge. A small hand came out of the hedge. I bent down. Two dirty-faced girls of seven or eight had a box under the hedge with an infant sleeping in it.
Dollar! the girl said. Then she stood on the road divider with the traffic going past on both sides and lifted the skirt of her ragged frock and pushed her delicate pelvis in threadbare panties forward. I didn't know what she meant, and maybe she didn't, either.
What money I had in my pockets I gave her, and then, instead of checking in to the hotel I got a taxi to the airport, looking neither left nor right.
There are children living in the middle of the road, I said.
Yes, the driver said. The country people come to town and they live in the street.
There was silence. He flicked on a Petula Clark tape.
After he took my money, outside departures, he said, We don't need no fuckin' grief from some old bitch.
The flight back to Europe was very long. I sat in the dark with my eyes open and grainy while the other passengers slept. The man beside me had slumped to one side, the napkin from the meal still tucked into his collar, like a baby's bib.
I was ashamed of myself at first for the egotistic way I reacted to the children in the middle of the road. They made me think about myself-me, me, me as usual-instead of the injustice of the world. But then I thought, Isn't it some kind of good, that a person can be shocked into truthfulness, even if it's only for a few hours and only with herself? I sat in the thick night air of the plane and I thought, If anyone had said to you, all these years, are you interested in sex? you'd have said, haughtily, No. I'm interested in passion. Passion. I murmured the word half out loud. What passion? It was never real excitement that got you into bed; it was hope, like some stubborn underground weed. Look at the way you've believed every time, at the first brush of a hand across a breast, that the roof over your life was sliding back and a dazzling, starry firmament was just coming into view. When it never happened. When a one-night stand has never, in all the years, done what you wanted it to do. What's more, the whole thing is getting more and more pathetic. The truth is, I said to myself, that the older you get, the more grateful you are for being wanted on any terms, by anybody.
But if I stopped all that, how would I ever meet anyone? If I didn't have this kind of sex life, I'd have none! Then I thought, But should it even be called sex? Look at the businessman in Harare. You're not even giving them any pleasure anymore, never mind getting any for yourself.
Then I started to smile, remembering Harare, at something else that had happened there. I'd got talking to a big, warm woman who was hanging out the guesthouse laundry while I was sitting on a back porch, working at my laptop. I helped her with the flapping sheets. Later I walked across town with her to see the room in a township that she'd raised her family in. We sat on the bed telling each other our life stories while she leaned across to the cooking ledge and made a stew. She took down a plastic carrier bag from a nail on the wall and showed me her treasures. Her radio that got two stations. Her conical pink bra, for best occasions. I went with her when she poured the stew into a bucket to sell around the big, bare beer halls. She made a wonderful sexy comedy out of offering it, and after a while I stopped being shy and joined in the spree. The men laughed their heads off at the sight of us two women and scooped the stew into tin bowls beside their bottles of beer. We danced around and shrugged and rubbed ourselves in a parody of excitement, and wiggled our bosoms at the fellas. By the time the whole pot of stew was sold we had a band of children following us and we were weak with laughter.
I do still know how to live, I said to myself.
On the plane the man who was asleep in the seat beside me had let his head somehow fall onto his plump fists-a wide band on one finger gleaming in the dark-and he was making grumbling noises in his sleep at the discomfort. I eased him into a better position as carefully as I could. In the end, I slept, too.
In London I tried to raise Jimmy on his mobile. We'll have to face up someday to all the awful things in the world, I wanted to say to him. If he'd allow me. He hated me getting serious.
Jimmy sure wants things kept cool, I once said to Roxy, the office secretary.
Well, you're a bit too emotional by any standards, she said to me.
Roxy was so exceptionally stolid that I didn't have to take this remark very seriously. But I had squirreled it away to examine it. No one in my life told me anything about myself except Roxy and Jimmy and, occasionally, usually crossly, Alex. In that way the three people I worked with were my family.
Jimmy wasn't answering his mobile. It occurred to me that he was in New York. I sent him an e-mail.
I need to talk to you, Jimmy, it said. I think I've had it with TravelWrite. I'm getting old, sweetheart. The good has gone out of the job.
I sent another one half a minute later.
Not just out of the job, Jimmy-the good has gone out of me.
Jimmy had been at the Mercer but he'd checked out. When I finally got to talk to him he said the place was so fashionably young that it made him feel old. He was coming back a roundabout route via Miami but we arranged to get together after work a few days later in a winebar near the office-a place that had once been a cavernous Victorian pub and now had a split personality, with mean little chrome chairs that looked all wrong in the heavy pitch-pine booths. I thought, watching Jimmy go up to the bar, about him saying that he felt old. When he was so slender and vivid! Had I ever really tried to understand the ways in which a gay man's ageing might hurt differently from my own? The boy in fake Prada behind the counter was laughing up at him. Everyone liked Jim because he had an open face and a quiff of straw-colored hair, just like Tintin's. Of course, he didn't want to look like Tintin-he wanted to look like James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause.
I think you are looking a bit Dean-ish this evening, I said to him when we were settled. Those narrow, hot eyes, you know? Eyelids bruised from nights of excess?
Jet lag, he said. And what has you being so nice to me, Dame Freya darling? If this is a symptom of your midlife crisis, I hope you're going to go on having it.
What were you doing in Miami, dearest Mr. Chatwin? I said. You were hardly there for the fine wines.
You can't get a decent bottle of Sancerre south of the Mason-Dixon line, Jimmy said. Or even a good Chinese meal.
The best Chinese food in the world is in Seattle, I said, where the Chinese draughtsmen from Boeing open restaurants with their severance pay. They've got American raw materials there. That's what Chinese food needs.
You know the problem with Seattle? Jimmy said. It's too far away.
It's only too far away if you start from here.
I disagree, he said seriously. There are some places that are too far away, even when you're in them. Seattle is one.
We talked this kind of nonsense a lot of the time. Roxy said it drove her crazy. But after twenty years together, Jimmy and I didn't listen to ourselves. We told each other everything through smiles or frowns or whether we cut a date short or lingered, or whether we looked down at the table or into each other's eyes, or whether we took a sip of the wine with gusto or flatly. Once, when I was upset at a meeting, Jimmy said, What's up, love? and Alex got really cross.
How do you know there's something up with her? he said, frustrated. How? The two of you always seem much the same to me.
There were ways in which we did acknowledge, in the winebar, that something was happening but that we had confidence in each other and would deal with it in time. That Jim ordered a bottle of wine, for example, instead of starting with a glass each, said to me that if I insisted on having a serious talk, he was there for me. And my mock-petulance when we were hugging goodbye told him that I wasn't going to be difficult about whatever he was up to in Miami.
Why can't I have a rendezvous with you? I said. Why can't I lie on a mattress in the pool of the Delano while a hunky waiter brings me a Cuba Libre and a slice of key lime pie?
Later, sweetie, Jimmy said. When we're old we'll move to South Beach for our arthritis.
I'll be jealous of all your geriatric rough trade, I said, rubbing his springy hair. That was the last time I ever touched him.
There'll be no rough trade left, he said. The boys will all be dead.
I had a funny story to tell him the next morning when I went in to work. Well, not all that funny, maybe. I'd been coming out of Euston Road station, going home from the winebar, when a pair of feet seemed to run towards me across the dirty pavement and stop, and a girl's voice said, Hi! I looked up and saw that behind her madly smiling face a video camera was pointed into mine. Fashion Channel Plus! the girl caroled, coming around shoulder-to-shoulder with me and beaming into the camera. It's the Vox Pop Shop! Hi! We're coming to you live from the streets of London to tell you what the happening people are wearing!
The camera with a man's legs walked backward and framed me. I'd looked to see what I was wearing. It was a charcoal wool trouser suit that had fitted when I was still smoking, but the pounds I'd put on since I quit poked out between the edges of the jacket now. I'd remembered that when I put it on, but I'd said to myself, Sure what of it, I'm only going to the office. Then I'd thought, That's a depressed woman's way of thinking. I am seriously depressed.
I don't know why you're asking me, I said to the camera, smiling pleasantly and pulling my stomach in. I'm afraid I don't know the first thing about fashion.
I expected to be contradicted, of course.
Leave it! the girl stunned me by shouting at the cameraman. This one's a no-no. She turned back to me for a moment. Sorry about that, she said over her shoulder. We're only talking to people who live here. Londoners.
That was all. No big deal. But I'd gone back to the basement stinging with chagrin. I live here! I protested in my head. I've lived in London since I was twenty years old! And that's a designer trouser suit-that cost a lot of money, so it did!
And there and then I'd picked a psychiatrist from the Yellow Pages and left a request for an appointment on his answering machine.
I was going to tell Jim all that.
It was the monthly planning meeting that morning. Alex and Roxy and I waited and waited. The phone rang. Alex put the phone down and said to us from lips gone chalk-white: Jimmy is dead. He had died, during the night, of a heart attack.
I never cried. My sister, Nora, who has managed to misunderstand me consistently from the hour I was born, rang me not long afterwards and said, You're getting over Jimmy very quickly, aren't you? I thought he was your big pal.
She'd taken against him, early on, because once when we stayed at her apartment, he thanked her by giving her a subscription to a Beethoven sonata cycle at Carnegie Hall with a little joke about showing the world she was not just a moneyed Mick. Nora is a big-deal personal assistant and earns a fortune and she's confident to a fault, but even she couldn't say what she wanted to, which was, What's wrong with being a moneyed Mick?
But the reason I did not cry was that I dared not.
I didn't know what to do. The first three or four days after he was dead I spent in the basement. I heard Alex calling down through the letterbox in the hall door and I heard my friend Caroline a couple of days later. But I shouted up to her that I was busy-that I was reading. I didn't come out till I had nothing left to read. I read all the paperbacks on the top shelf of the bookcase, from left to right, and then I read the whole of the Talbot Judgment because it was on the next shelf and then I read the guidebooks on the bottom shelves. After the funeral, I stopped reading and instead I wrote as much as I could. I wrote the pieces Jimmy had been scheduled to do as well as my own. I didn't stop moving and writing until I realized, in a crumbling spa in the Tatras foothills, that nothing was helping. Not the oxen dragging the old ploughs up to the small fields that survived on the hillsides, or the smell of woodsmoke and stabled animals along the muddy roads of the low villages as the cold evenings came down. It was no good being there without Jimmy to call to say that I had yet to see a vegetable or that I was reading the new Theroux and I disliked the man more than ever. Hello, it's only me. Hello, Only You. Where are you? I'm waiting outside the Minister's private office in a gilded villa. I'm having breakfast in a milkbar in a place I can't pronounce. Are you well? Do you have anyone there to talk to? I went to a god-awful folk-dance thing last night. The tourism bloke kept the penthouses for our group. How's Alex looking? The plane was diverted. I forgot to pack shades. Did you have the duck with red currants? The maize crop has failed and they're trying to get a World Bank loan. I have a toothache.
But back in London, I did not say that I was finished with the job. I didn't want to disturb the quiet we had pulled around ourselves. Alex sat in his boss's cubicle, and Roxy sat at her secretary's desk, and Betty the administration lady sat down the corridor in her room. I made as little noise as possible, working in the corner. We were gentle with one another. We tried not to mention Jimmy. One of his gym shoes lay on the floor under his desk. None of us put it away.
De Burca, I said to the psychiatrist's receptionist, when the day of my appointment came around. Kathleen de Burca.
She looked at me as if me not being called Smith or Jones was the very last straw, and put down her pen. Then she picked it up again, wearily.
Could you spell that? she said, as if it were entirely possible that I couldn't.
And what did I do? I said, That's Burke, in English, if that would be easier for you.
Then I complimented her on the New Age flower arrangement on her desk-fawning on her, because I was so afraid. The flesh on my cheeks was actually quivering with fear. By the time I went in to the psychiatrist's office with its antique furniture gleaming in the low light, I was not so much crying as sniveling. I thought everything might unravel then and there and I wouldn't be able to go on. I had let things be. I did my work, and let the rest pile up behind me. I was afraid he would move one little thing in my head, and the whole lot would crash.
There are tissues just beside the chair, he murmured.
I tried to tell him how desolate the nights had been for as long as I could remember. Yes, he murmured. Yes. I told him my best friend was a gay American man and he dropped dead and now I have nobody. Yes. My body slackened with the force of my crying. I howled. I'm getting old! I have made nothing out of my life! Yes, he said. Siblings? he said. A brother at home, and his wife and child, I said. And Nora in New York, the eldest. And my little brother Sean died when he was six and a half and if I'd stayed at home I might have been able to save him! More howling. And there were three or four babies who died around when they were born. Why do you mention them? he said. I don't know, I said. Except-my poor mother! I moaned and hiccuped, but then the storm of crying began to pass. I tried to explain to him: I'm too depressed to even dress properly. I was wearing a jacket the other day that doesn't even fit me! Units of alcohol? he was saying. I luxuriated in the safety of the exquisite room and his hands lying quietly on the desk, reflected in the polished surface. I did not pull myself up and sit properly, though now only the occasional sob shook me. If you could get it down on paper, he was saying, just the general picture, ages of the children at your mother's death, that kind of thing. Next time we meet I'll ask you-
And then I heard it. I wouldn't have, but that I had stopped crying.
Someone made a furtive movement behind a screen in the dim corner behind him.
I sprang upright like a hare in the grass, and searched his face.
It is quite common! he said. Our trainees are allowed to monitor first consultations on exactly the same basis of absolute confidentiality as the primary relationship.
My legs were shaky as I walked to the door.
They do it in your country, too! he called after me. I can assure you!
That's how I know, I said to Nora when I phoned her, that he took the chance because I was Irish.
Nora was silent. She passionately believed in her own shrink. She'd been trying to get me to go into therapy for years. She'd even sent me a blank check once.
Maybe they do it to everybody, she began.
They don't, I said. You know they don't. If that was one of his own kind-if I'd been a university lecturer from Hampstead . . .
Come to me! she said. Come here! Or go home! I don't know how you stuck snobby old England all these years.
But I'd tried that before. The last time there'd been an upheaval in my life, I went to New York to stay with Nora, with the idea of maybe settling down near her. It lasted a week. And Ireland-well, I certainly wasn't going to live in Ireland. Though Ireland was on my mind, in a way it had never been before. Maybe going to the psychiatrist had stirred up the murk in my memory. Or maybe it was reading the Talbot Judgment again, though I hadn't realized at the time-so soon after Jimmy died-that I was taking it in.
Something had started moving inside me. I realized it standing in a private zoo near London, taking notes for a piece Alex wanted on animals as tourist attractions. It wasn't a zoo, exactly, as much as a species rescue place where they were running a breeding program to save the miniature lion tamarin monkey. The reddish-gold color of spaniels, the monkeys were, with ruffs like the MGM lion around each tiny, melancholy face. I leaned my forehead against the glass to watch them go about their business. I loved looking at them. They hung from branches by one arm, swinging slightly to and fro, pensive, or they crouched under the big fleshy leaves of the habitat, or they scratched their heads, completely indifferent to scrutiny. I followed the busy little doings of a lion-headed monkey about the size of my hand with an even smaller one clinging to its stomach. Mother and baby. Poignant little eyes, they had.
It struck me suddenly: I have never looked at my family the way I look at animals. I have never taken an unhurried look at the people by whom I was formed, wanting nothing but to see clearly, the way I look at animals or birds-appreciating them, without having any designs on them. My family has been the same size and shape in my head since I ran out of Ireland. Mother? Victim. Nora and me and Danny and poor little Sean? Neglected victims of her victimhood. Villain? Father. Old-style Irish Catholic patriarch; unkind to wife, unloving to children, harsh to young Kathleen when she tried to talk to him.
Then I lifted my head as if I could smell something odd.
What was I being bitter about, nearly thirty years after I'd seen my father last, and when he'd been dead five or six years? I couldn't not have changed. I could not be the same person now that I was when I left home. It just wasn't possible. Although I had lived for a long time, during the basement years, in a state of suspended animation, I had been alive. And everything that is alive changes all the time.
The mother and baby monkeys had disappeared. I think they'd gone in behind the big leaves of a tropical tree.
Where are you? I whispered. I tapped lightly on the glass.
The lines of a poem we learned at school came into my head and they pulled at me as I walked back to the car.
"Is there anybody there?" said the Traveller, knocking on the moonlit door-
There was a man knocking on the door of a deserted house deep in a forest. And there were ghosts inside on the stairs, weren't there? Listening to him.
"Tell them I came and no one answered-that I kept my word," he said....
I tried to remember it properly.
"Is there anybody there?" said the Traveller, knocking on the moonlit door, And his horse in the silence of the-something-champed the grasses of the forest's ferny floor, And a bird flew up out of a turret above the Traveller's head, And he smote upon the door again a second time. "Is there anybody there?" he said.
A picture formed at the back of my mind, of silent ghosts waiting and listening, and me, the Traveller, riding up and calling to them. Whether these were the ghosts of Marianne Talbot and William Mullan, watching each other on the lamplit stairs of Mount Talbot, or of my father and mother-his watch chain gleaming, her face a pale patch over his shoulder-I didn't bother to decide. It wasn't people I was thinking of. It was a shape, a blurred image-me outside somewhere, calling, and tragic ghosts listening to me and waiting for me to free them-that settled inside me.... Reprinted from My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain by permission of Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 Nuala O'Faolain. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
Reading Group Guide
- "I knew all about the act of love as a non-event," Kathleen de Burca says, "but I still believed it was the act in which one person can truly learn another, and truly build on what they learn." (p. 64) In what ways has this belief affected her relationships with lovers over the course of her life? Does she still believe this at the end of the book? Why or why not?
- What does Kathleen's relationship with Caro reveal about her character? What about her friendship with Alex? With Jimmy? How does each person affect Kathleen's sense of herself?
- The loss of Jimmy is the catalyst for Kathleen's return to Ireland. In what ways does his death challenge her perception of herself as "well defended against crisis, if it came from outside"? (p.7) What is she guarding herself against? What are her vulnerabilities?
- Why is the story of the Talbot affair so compelling to the young Kathleen? Does she return to it in middle age for the same or different reasons?
- "I think they were perhaps the happiest people in Europe, for a while...They had the old faith," Miss Leech tells Kathleen (p. 70). What role does Irish Catholic faith play in Kathleen's present life? What about her past?
- "The country I was driving through was only a green space. I didn't care anymore what was outside," Kathleen says. (p. 490) Discuss the changing role of landscape throughout the novel. How does Mount Talbot of Marianne's time compare to Kathleen's basement apartment? What part of Kathleen's identity is linked to her travels? What about her experience of the cottage at Mellary? Her return to Uncle Ned's home?
- To what extent does Kathleen know herself through her body? Has her perception of herself been changed by her affair with Shay? How or how not?
- "We're middle-aged women now and we have to forgive the past-for our own sakes," Kathleen tells her sister. (p. 498) What has led her to this conclusion? Has Kathleen come to terms with her own aging? Why or why not?
- "I could choose what to believe about the Talbot scandal. I would choose what to believe." Kathleen says near the end of her journey. (p. 486) What stake has she placed in her passionate imagining of the two lovers? What forces have shaped her thinking about the Talbots at this point? Have her assumptions about romantic love been challenged or reinforced by her journey home? By her affair with Shay? Discuss.
- Discuss the various ways in which women's roles are presented in the novel. How do the mothers in the story (Kathleen's mother, Caro, Annie, Ella) compare with Kathleen? How is she challenged by the women in her life as compared to the men?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If you long for fine writing and appreciate realism, this is the book for you. Nuala O'Faolain is in a class not entered since William Kennedy wrote Ironweed. Not a book for the prudish or faint of heart, this is a remarkable work. Well worth your time. The author creates a woman who longs for love, and by the end of the book you will love her.
This was an interesting book about an Irish transplant travel writer in London. The story flip flops between her present life and her reflection on her past. It also flips way back to a story she's researching about an affair between an Irish groom and an English lady during the potato famine years (think mid-eighteen hundreds). I liked this book because it described a reality in Ireland that we sometime as tourists and travelers don't see about a place. It was also amazing to realize the shear amount of people who suffered, died, and immigrated. The book did tend to ramble and I think she could have cut the story down in half but it did really make you get to know the main character.
Lyrical, poignant story of a woman searching for her own history
Kathleen De Burca, an Irish travel writer living in London, trows over her life there to return to Ireland and write a book. What she is chasing down is an old scandal - an affair in mid century Ireland between the wife of an English landlord and her Irish servant during the time of the Irish potato famine. Also woven into the narrative is Kathleen's own story - tragically disfunctional families, sharp-eyed feminist critiques of contemporary society, aging,, sex and friendship. A beautifully written book about longing, regret, choices and change.
I seriously disliked the main character: whiny, selfish, amoral. The least the author could have done was to wrap up the Marianne Talbot / William Mullan subplot.
This book is beautifully written by Ms. O'Faolain and is full of sad, tortured, unhappy, and doomed characters. The descriptions of the Irish potato famine and the lives affected is particularly harsh and painful but also accurate. It both captivated and repelled me. It was so wonderfully written but so overwrought and mentally burdensome that it took a while to get through. It was a dead on description of Irish angst (yup, I'm Irish! so I know!) but it gets a bit much sometimes. Overall, a very good read.
My Dream of You is one of the better written books that I have read in a long time. The book took me back in time and I enjoyed the wonderful escape.
I picked up this book because I wanted to read something new by an Irish author. At the beginning, I found the depictions of an empty life so painful and unmotivating that I was tempted to quit. But the book gets better as it goes along...I enjoyed it more and more as Kathleen realizes, near the end, that she needs to re-connect with her own homeland, family and self. Even as a happily married 41-year old woman, I could relate to some of Kathleen's loneliness and self-defeating behavior. Well-written and ultimately worth spending the time on.
I bought this book when it first came out, but because of the shelf of books that I had ahead of it I¿ve only just finished reading it. Not a reader of smut books so I must warn that her ¿love/sex¿ moments are awkwardly shocking, full of passion, and yet still manage to capture the quintessential nature of real behavior. It is a great read, which I highly recommend.
I read the other readers' reviews...Can't help adding my own 2 pence. Did anyone read the title? My Dream of You is an examination of a modern smoke-and-mirrors champion. The one-dimensional characters and lurid sexuality are quintessential to empathically experiencing Kathleen's world. Kathleen finds herself never "at home" (as she despises/fears what she will find there), and learns little is ever as it appears to be - and this is often by her own doing. She is a self-expatriated Irishwoman while in England. A successful career woman travelling around the globe, she is a lonely stranger in others' homes, often short on self-confidence. She is cold in the arms of searing passion, and at other times, gives herself insensibly to loathsome partners. Her raw sexual encounters deny her any spiritual satisfaction, and distance her from true intimacy, which would force her to acknowledge her true self - or "bring her home." Her painful avoidance of her siblings effects the same result. She experiences her self and those around her as one-dimensional, again, to conceal what is "home" - and threatening - about them. This is all reflected in the historical sub-plot - the adulterous landed Lady, displaced from her home-country, miserable in a loveless marriage - and in the pathetic subplot of the Burke family history - a mother who cannot mother; a family left hardened and hopeless; a home without a heart. And the true-love Kathleen hoped to unmask in her pursuit of the famine-time adulterers is but yet another mirage, just as she seeks true-love in her adulterous affair with Shay. Things are not one-dimensional; there is much supporting the facades. Kathleen must choose to surrender her "Dreams of..." her self, her future, her past, and enter a multi-dimensional reality, and finally "come home" to her true self.
Aargh. It took me 150 pages to even want to keep reading this book. The only thing that motivated me to continue reading was the fact that I spent money on the book. If you are below 40, don't read this book. If you consider yourself a moral person, monogamous, virtuous, don't read this book. If you'd like to treat yourself, don't buy this book. Your money is better spent on almost ANY other book.
i loved this book. the main character is a bit of a tramp but still it shows that not everyone gets the standard sit com life (husband, children, house, dog, job, etc)and that that is just way it is. I suspect the more similar you are to Kathleen the more you like the book. It made sense to me because i'm in my early 40's and widowed and just starting to realize that things are unlikely to work out as i planned. I suspect is would have hated this book in my 20's or even in my 40's if i'd have gotten everything the way i thought i was going to.It's very life affirming. Life is not the same for everyone but there's a lot of joy to be found.
THE DESCRIPTION WAS EXCEPTIONAL. INSIGHT INTO BEING A 50 YEAR SINGLE WOMAN IS REMARKABLE. IT ISN'T ALL LONELINESS-FRIENDSHIP IS THERE AND SHE CHERISHES IT. REALLY ENJOYED THIS BOOK AND WOULD HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT. great book. would highly recommend it. 50 years of age, she has found out that being on one's own can be very fulfilling. friendship matters more than an illicit love affair that would harm her more than give her fulfillment.
An absolutely horrible book. The author tries way too hard to write 'high quality literature,' but the 'poetic' passages are so forced they are corny. She ends each sub chapter with seemingly poignant and resounding sentences that are so contrived they come off as pathetic. On top of the poor writing, the main charater in a nymphomaniac, and the author can't resist throwing in soft core porn every other page, which seems like a desperate attempt to hold a readers attention through the flimsy writing, shallow, transparnet themes and weak, obtuse parallels between flat, unoriginal charaters. I would not recommend this book to anyone.
This is clearly a first novel and does not get too complex in the way it blends characters and themes, but it definitely has an appeal. The heroine, Kathleen Burke (Caitlin de Burca) is a 50 year old travel writer who left her unhappy home in an Irish town 30 years before, carrying nothing on her back but the baggage of her upbringing. She moves to London, swearing that she will never set foot on Irish soil again. She's wrong, of course; but aren't most of the life-defining declarations we make when we are young? She stays away for the 30 years, though. Because of a xerox copy of a court judgement from the 1850's that was given to her by an ex-lover many years before -- for which she always held a romantic fascination -- she retuns to Ireland (to Ballygall) to trace the roots of the judgement ... and write a book about it. She is partly fascinated by the judgement -- a divorce decree -- because it involves the time of the Great Famine and an adulterous affair between a Irish stable-man (who would likely have spoken almost exclusively Irish) and the gentrified wife of a cruel landlord (who certainly would have no Irish at all). The affair was supposed to have lasted (according to the judgement) for 3 years. Kathleen wonders: What could they have possibly talked about and what sustained the affair for that duration? Even simple lust will seldom carry forward for that length of time. She decides to try to find out. What ensues is an exploration of the topic, the history, the culture of the past and present, and -- most importantly -- an exploration of herself that she has avoided for the better part of a lifetime. She finds parallels where she never would have imagined: In her own life, her upbringing, her heritage. She discovers that the past and the present are remarkably similar, because both revolve around people ... and people's needs ... and people's anguish. For the first time, she looks at the things that she blames for her unhappiness ... and sees herself in ways that she had thought were impossible. She had spent most of her life trying to run from her past, and ran into it headlong! But this is not a tragic tale; it is a tale of learning and redemption. I would have liked to have seen more complexity to the story; more profundity. But there is meat for self-exploration, for those who wish to dabble there. I found myself thinking about my own past and wondering if I was living the same sort of folly. There are things left unresolved, which I view as a courageous decision. Some of the themes would have been tempting to tie up in a nice little bow. The difficulty would be in resisting that temptation and recognizing the power that can sometimes come from uncertainty. This is an examination of a life still being lived by examining lives that are passed: There are few clear conclusions; there is just continual learning! I recommend this book, for both the simple and enticing story, and the insights into the complexity of the history we think we know ... and the history of the lives we lead. My Dream of You by Nuala O'Faolain
Part shocking history, part sexual odyssey, all lyrical prose, Dublin journalist Nuala O'Faolain's first fiction is stunning as she interweaves past and present in parallel stories of two women seeking fulfillment. Ms. O'Faolain's bestselling memoir, 'Are You Somebody?,' won accolades for its utter honesty and brilliant craftsmanship. These attributes shine as brightly in 'My Dream Of You.' Kathleen de Burca, an unmarried 50+ travel writer is a woman who 'believed in passion the way other people believed in God; everything fell into place around it.' Yet to date her life has been a series of meaningless, rueful-in-the-morning liaisons. Compounding her unhappiness is the sudden death of her best friend, Jimmy, a gay fellow writer. Hoping to begin anew, Kathleen takes a leave of absence and returns to her native Ireland. Memories of her homeland are disheartening. She recalls her mother as oppressed and the children as 'neglected victims of her victimhood. Villain? Father. Old-style Irish Catholic patriarch; unkind to wife, unloving to children, harsh to young Kathleen when she tried to talk to him.' Nonetheless, Kathleen wants '....my life given back to me, so I can live it again better.' She has become fascinated by the Talbot affair, an actual event which took place during the Potato Famine, some 150 years ago. According to records, Marianne Talbot, the wife of an Anglo-Irish landowner, was seen by servants en deshabille with William Mullan, a stableman. 'There could hardly have been two people less likely to be drawn to each other than an Anglo-Irish landlord's wife and an Irish servant,' Ms. O'Faolain writes. 'Each of them came from a powerful culture which had at its very core the defining of the other as alien.' Intrigued by the disparity between the apparent lovers and the fact that Marianne is found guilty of adultery, Kathleen determines to write their story. She travels to Ballygall, site of the former Talbot estate, where she is aided in her research by Miss Leech, a feisty spinster librarian; and cosseted by Bertie, a widowed inn owner. As Kathleen delves into the past readers are reminded of the grim devastation wrought by the Famine. Those were days when the still living 'had to open the pit in the top field to push in more bodies,' and Marianne could hear through her drawing room window the cries for food, when 'the low noise of pleading and begging swelled to shrieking.' Surely few have painted the Famine's stark reality as movingly as Ms. O'Faolain. Her descriptions constrict the heart, enabling readers to see anew a mortally wounded country and its people. As Kathleen unearths surprising data about the Talbot scandal, she also discovers some truths about herself. It's at this juncture that she finds another opportunity for romance, but at what price? With 'My Dream Of You' Ms. O'Faolain clearly shows that she is not only a deft memoirist, but a brilliant storyteller, a keen observer of humankind, and a compassionate chronicler of a still present past.
In my own search for love i have found that there are many out there just like myself who also seem to be looking in the same places for all the wrong answers. Through my reading of the book 'My Dream Of You' I found another who was not unlike myself just living life in the hopes that one day the right person might show oneself to my heart and let me know that I am wanted, beautiful inside, and loved. There are many steps in the life of love, and this book has coverd them all, between death, lust, and passion, I have found myself longing to go out into the world and declair that I am not alone in my great search and that I will find my other half soon enough and untill then, I will enjoy the ride and experiance the journy to the fullist.