In the eighteenth century, on discovering her husband has been murdered, an Irish noblewoman drinks handfuls of his blood and composes an extraordinary lament that reaches across centuries to the young Doireann Ní Ghríofa, whose fascination with it is later rekindled when she narrowly avoids fatal tragedy in her own life and becomes obsessed with learning everything she can about the poem.
The prose debut of acclaimed poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa. Billed as a genre-busting blend of 'autofiction, essay, scholarship, sleuthing and literary translation', the book is an extraordinary feat of ventriloquism delivered in a lush, lyrical prose that dazzles readers from the get-go ... This is one wonder of the book, the way in which Ní Ghríofa lets her mind flit freely between the domestic present and the drama of the past in the poem itself. As the symmetry of poetic voices is established, Ní Chonaill and Ní Ghríofa become soulmates ... Suddenly the work is over and the brutal self-assessment is delivered ... The book’s triumph rests on several factors: the translation project is admirable; the authorial voice is empathetic; the treatment of issues that may not reflect well on the author are delivered with honesty; and, above all, the language is sumptuous, almost symphonic, in its intensity. When you can write like this, there is almost nothing a writer cannot get away with ... She is particularly good on the joys and traumas of childbirth, female desire and the ravages life can visit on the female body ... As readers, we should be grateful for her boldness. Without it, we would not have had one of the best books of this dreadful year.
... when we encounter real passion, as in the Irish poet Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s remarkable prose debut...it’s an alien and disconcerting experience: it results in a book that takes you and shakes you ... it’s the birth of her fourth child, and first daughter, that inspires what might be the book’s strongest set piece, dragging the reader through the gruelling premature birth and aftermath with such breath-stopping intensity...that the chapter alone is a 15-page masterclass in life-writing. Next to this, or a later passage where she discovers lumps in her breast—both benefit from an inbuilt narrative drive—the sections searching for Eibhlín Dubh’s story are necessarily more distant. However, they burst into life when death appears again with the husband’s murder and the killer’s trial ... Her prose has a super-serious quality ... It is this single-minded focus that gives A Ghost in the Throat its intense flavour[.]
Ní Ghríofa is a poet through and through: in this prose work she writes lyrical sentences that make the physical world come alive ... almost everything Ní Ghríofa notices gains significance by rhyming with something else. Metaphors and metonyms are her metier; omens and dreams are mirrors of deep mind ... As bits and pieces of her own life are woven through the tale of her pursuit of Ní Chonaill, we are given intimate personal details ... there is a crucial aspect of Ní Ghríofa’s experience that she marginalizes throughout the memoir, and that is the hidden heart of it: how she translated the 'Caoineadh.' Although at the back of the book she gives us the poem in Irish Gaelic, her exciting translation, and a list of references for further reading, I wanted much more ... Ní Ghríofa certainly gives us a new, feminist vision of a woman saving another woman, righting a historical imbalance that persists in women’s continued sacrifices, from lopped donor ponytails to donated breastmilk to lopsided breasts. In one of the most poignant instances of mystical reciprocity, Ní Ghríofa writes a poem about Ní Chonaill that ends up winning a prize; the purse is enough to put a down payment on a house at long last. Thus do stanzas translate into real rooms. I wish we had been given a room-by-room tour of Ní Chonaill’s stanzas.