Book Review: A Ghost in The Throat by Doireann Ni Ghriofa

I stumbled across this book quite by accident. I was scrolling through Twitter and a mention of this book, A Ghost in The Throat by Doireann Ni Ghriofa appeared. I bobbed an email across to Ben Williams and a proof was quickly on it way, for which I was and remain most thankful.

Sitting down to read A Ghost in the Throat I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Described as ‘hybrid of essay and autofiction’ this book had piqued my interest, and it wasn’t long before I was under it’s spell.

This is the story of two writers, both creating lyrical works, but living and working centuries apart. The present day author is a mother of 3, then 4 children. Up to her eyes in all the normal, glorious but also bone numbingly exhausting day to day realities that come with small children. Washing, feeding, playing; the constant giving of yourself to the needs and demands of others. Not only does our author give to her own children but she gives to other people’s, through her donations to a breast milk bank, supporting premature babies in local hospitals.

This idea of a woman, a mother giving of herself is key to this work. It underpins and structures what we find here. It makes this modern day mother’s experience a ‘women’s text’. Something personal and unique. It is this concept that bridges the centuries, that pulls these two writers together and intertwines them.

For when our modern day mother narrowly avoids a personal tragedy, one so tied to her experiences as a mother that it is painful to read, her empathy with and dedication to the work of Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill takes hold, grows and becomes all encompassing.

Our author has encountered Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire, the epic love poem written in the 1700’s many times in her life. At different points this poem, a lament of her husband’s murder and her subsequent grief, has meant different things. But now it speaks to her in a personal way, resonating with her core. Suddenly this ancient poem translated and interpreted so many times, is an obsession. In the face of her own personal trauma, her own journey through motherhood and her female experiences this text becomes key.

It strikes our author that this crucial, vibrant poem, the very essence and definition of a women’s text has always been translated and presented by men. And so in stolen moments, squeezed into her own full life of motherhood and writing, she surrounds herself with Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill’s words and begins her own translation. She looks beyond the words on the page. She visits ancients sites, ploughs through archives and letters, on a mission to bring this ancient poet back to life. To tell her story for her sake, to put the spirit of this women right back in her words, to reclaim this epic as a women’s text.

The idea of the woman’s text can not be over stated within this work. Here is a rich and vibrant understanding of the value of a women’s voice. These two stories both have their very roots in the passions, challenges and joys of women’s day to day life. These women have important, beautiful stories to tell. Their beginnings maybe found in the domestic and day to day, but they are no less important for this These stories are a bedrock. They should not be dismissed or over looked. It made me wondered how many tales aren’t told because of the perception that what happens at the hearth isn’t as important and what happens beyond it. How many women’s texts have we lost?

I have read some stunning stuff this summer. Powerful writing, raw and brimming with the voices of women, writing that has channelled, challenged and extended my own thinking and writing and this book is right at the heart of this. I admire and understand this need to give a woman her voice. To discover as much as you can about her and then release her story to the four corners. It is what I am currently trying to do in my own work and it what Doireann Ni Ghriofa has excelled at here.

This is story of what happens when a powerful connection with a piece of literature is formed. When the connection takes root and grows just at the right time and how women can reach out to each other across the ages.

This is everything I love in literature and more.

Rachel x

A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ni Ghriofa is published by Tramp Press on 27th August . Preorder here

8 thoughts on “Book Review: A Ghost in The Throat by Doireann Ni Ghriofa

  1. I absolutely loved this, an impulse buy, now likely to be in my top reads of 2020, I just devoured it.
    It feels like we thirst for this kind of writing and appreciation of women writers from the past and finally, here it is, a female text that begins to put things to rights.

    May it inspire more to share their obsessions that accompany them through long nights of caring and nurturing others.


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