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.
... 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.
A work of autofiction-cum-essay-cum-memoir exploring her lifelong reading of the earlier woman ... It is, rather, an exploration into how the act of translation moves beyond the page. The work of researching, and of emotionally imagining, Eibhlín’s life becomes entwined with Ní Ghríofa’s own. Eventually she comes to think that perhaps ‘the past is always trembling inside the present, whether or not we sense it’ ... Research and translation are recounted alongside a narrative of the other materials of daily life which are female texts in their own way: the author writes next to ‘a family calendar scrawled with biro and pencil marks, each in the same hand; her breastfeeding body, an experience which joins the women across the centuries, develops ‘a vocabulary of bruises’; The more Doireann searches for Eibhlín, the more she is confronted with gaps. As if she can make amends, she lets herself slip into obsession: ‘whenever there wasn’t space for both of us in my days, I chose her needs over mine’. However, in the end, the book she produces comes as much out of the exploration of those spaces as it does out of the collision of lives. It is a rich and compelling ‘oblique kind of holding’, and a work of deep love.
Refusing to be bound by the strict categories of memoir or biography, the text charts Ní Ghríofa’s obsession with first the poem then the life of eighteenth-century noblewoman Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill ... Ní Ghríofa becomes consumed by a desire to know more about the woman who penned it. The keenness of this desire is striking, as it surpasses an idle poetic interest to become inexplicably urgent ... They also remind the reader that this is a text as much about the searcher as the searched for, as much about why a young woman might feel drawn to the mystery of another life as about that life itself. Eibhlín’s loves, her sacrifices and her desires are made bitingly immediate once more, as Ní Ghríofa frames them within her own experiences. Ní Ghríofa often refers to her lack of academic qualifications for this kind of archival research, and ultimately the paper trail peters out. Eibhlin remains a shadow woman, erased by a history that cares little for the informal records of women’s lives and letters. We are left with many questions and a lot of conjecture. The gaps in the record become a space for poetry and imagination to grow, filling the lacunae with a sense of wonder and strange kinship ... It is the vulnerability of this text that is most moving. Unsheltered by alias or character, Ní Ghríofa is endlessly and sometimes brutally honest, about desire, motherhood, the repetitive thrum of routine and the fragments of pain and joy that go into making a life. Through the framework of the search for Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, Ní Ghríofa is able to examine who she is and where she came from with a nuance and beauty that no family census records could ever provide.
This incandescent, uncategorisable prose debut is...many things—a reimagining of an 18th-century life that combines scholarship with imaginative verve; an account of obsession and a meditation on the limits of biography; a memoir of post-feminist motherhood ... when it comes to prose, is incapable of delivering a dud sentence ... [Ní Ghríofa] is incapable of delivering a dud sentence. This is a text that glints with treasures ... In entwining her own existence with the story of a lauded poem and its overlooked author, she busts open the idea of the female text to encompass not merely self-sacrifice and scars, but also merriment, desire, and fierce, sustaining curiosity.
Ní Ghríofa, a bilingual writer, brings all the linguistic clarity and precision of her poetry to this part-memoir, part-literary-mystery ... Equally interesting is the minute attention Ní Ghríofa pays to her own body, mapping the complications of pregnancy, a birth-tragedy narrowly averted, the whip-exhaustion of night feeds, the aversion to sex after giving birth, the glorious return of carnal desire. With luminous language and candid details, this book shimmers with honesty and scholarship. A truly original read.
The 17 chapters that make up this most unusual book see its author sacrificing something of herself for any number of higher purposes, though there is a wilfulness to Ní Ghríofa’s narrative that saves it from martyrdom. There is the sense throughout of a woman who has figured out what it means to be alive and who wants others to join her at the party ... Ní Ghríofa isn’t the first to translate the poem...but the way she weaves this years-long process with tales from her own life results in a truly unique project that comes alive on the page ... it would in fact be hard to imagine another person who could match her consideration of the poem, the way she lives the verses and is emotionally impacted by their meaning ... This obsession, though heartfelt, can occasionally be long-winded for the reader, who cannot hope to match the author’s level of interest in her subject. Sections on Eibhlín and Art’s relatives are one example where the pace flags. But it is a minor criticism in a searing debut whose voice speaks loudly to the reader right from its opening line, and oft-repeated mantra: 'This is a female text.'
This spectral, arresting and at times disorientating autofiction is, most simply, the story of an author and her muse. But it isn’t just a story. Its fusion of historical biography, memoir and literary criticism makes it an intoxicating experiment in genre while also a heady and sensitive read ... action is not what makes this elegiac story so captivating. Ní Ghríofa’s lyrical prose loops back on itself through many recurring images and sounds...this is noticeably a poet’s first prose venture, and all the better for that. Most experimental literature—as good as it may be—fails the most important test: is it a page turner? A Ghost in the Throat passes with flying colours: no demonic presence necessary.
... an extraordinary literary memoir that finds life in buried spaces ... Feminist and feminine, A Ghost in the Throat gives defiant voice to hushed womanhood, in all of its pain and glory. Her images incandescent and brutal ... A Ghost in the Throat is an achingly gorgeous literary exploration that establishes a sisterhood across generations.
Ní Ghríofa’s approach focuses on the body, and in doing so breaks the traditional binary of choice between a life of art or a life of family ... a kaleidoscopic book of 'homemaking' that centers the intuitive knowledge of the body in order to learn to live—again, again, and again.
A rouse. A prayer. A persuasion ... how much I love this book, how I clung to it as proof that there is still something new in the literary world, still something worth shouting about ... I wish to shout because this book is so profoundly beautiful and so beautifully profound—a female text with so much to say about the ways we serve others (our families, our homes, our obsessions) and the ways that serving shapes us, and how being alone is never being alone, and how imagination always leaves us a few truths short, but it is what we have, it is the best we can do, it may even be the best of us. Imagination yields. It has given us the genuine miracle of A Ghost in the Throat.
In A Ghost In The Throat, Doireann Ní Ghríofa reconstructs Ní Chonaill’s life, piecing together each instance she is marked as the mother, wife, or aunt of a man, until there is a thorough and brilliant picture. What starts out as an act of curiosity turns into a sort of pilgrimage for Ní Ghríofa, a means through which to understand and anchor her own life. The resulting text is a landmark in Irish writing ... Wilson has translated a number of classic works and in doing so has highlighted the importance of considering the effect, whether intentional or not, that a translator’s biases have on the text. Ní Ghríofa raises this issue in an Irish context with A Ghost In The Throat, showing the reader how essential it is to question the seeming objectivity of translation ... While Ní Ghríofa keeps the plates of motherhood and writing spinning, we follow her research through census documents, court records and newspaper archives, where women appear as appendages in the lives of men ... Ní Ghríofa writes with acute intricacy about the maternal body during and after pregnancy. For the reader, we see the importance, and intensity, of the beautiful moments just as much as the challenging ones ... One of Ní Ghríofa’s biggest accomplishments with this book is to explore the delicate and beautiful bond between mother and baby, as much for herself as for Ní Chonaill, while at the same time showing the cost that the deep attention of motherhood require ... It is exhilarating to read what Ní Ghríofa has done with the prose form, blending memoir, biography and auto-fiction to create a sprawling interrogation of self and of womanhood that is unlike anything else.
The novel itself may revolve around two very real women, the writer Doireann Ní Ghríofa herself (or perhaps a version of her) and her 'steady companion' through life Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, a poet who inspired her in childhood and on countless occasions since, but it’s also an ode to the unwritten women of generations past ... The book even begins and ends with this refrain, and she reminds us of it throughout ... Ní Ghríofa becomes obsessed with this poem and its author. She begins painstakingly translating and researching it - even travelling to the places described in the poem with her young children in tow. She finds the experience of delving into Eibhlín life rattling but invigorating, both transgressive and fulfilling at once. She finds uncanny parallels between Eibhlín’s life and her own, which only further fuels her fixation ... What becomes clear in the course of reading is that Ní Ghríofa has that enviable ability not just to see the world in a very unique way, but also to express her observations about it eloquently ... In both instances, a direct line of communication from one generation to the next. Ní Ghríofa is interested in these echoes, not just in the body, but in the written word ... She describes the female body with great wonder and admiration, acknowledging its incredible potential for pain and pleasure, life and death, finding beauty even in its secretions, be it her life-giving breast milk or the blood that pours from Eibhlín’s husband’s deadly wound ... It’s an extraordinary piece of work.
A fascinating hybrid work in which the voices of two Irish female poets ring out across centuries ... what a debut it is. Earning well-deserved accolades abroad, the book merges memoir, history, biography, autofiction, and literary analysis ... Lyrical prose passages and moving introspection abound in this unique and beautiful book.