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.
... a powerful, bewitching blend of memoir and literary investigation ... Ni Ghriofa is deeply attuned to the gaps, silences and mysteries in women’s lives, and the book reveals, perhaps above all else, how we absorb what we love — a child, a lover, a poem — and how it changes us from the inside out ... heated and alive ...This is not dusty scholarship but a work of passion.
... ardent, shape-shifting ... The book is all undergrowth, exuberant, tangled passage. It recalls Nathalie Léger’s brilliant and original Suite for Barbara Loden: a biography of the actress and director that becomes a tally of the obstacles in writing such a book, and an admission of the near-impossibility of biography itself ... The story that uncoils is stranger, more difficult to tell, than those valiant accounts of rescuing a 'forgotten' woman writer from history’s erasures or of the challenges faced by the woman artist ... What is this ecstasy of self-abnegation, what are its costs? She documents this tendency without shame or fear but with curiosity, even amusement. She will retrain her hungers. 'I could donate my days to finding hers,' she tells herself, embarking on Ni Chonaill’s story. 'I could do that, and I will.' Or so she says. The real woman Ni Ghriofa summons forth is herself.