Sinead Gleeson’s uneven collection of reflective essays is also in need of structure. It’s a mishmash of genres: memoir, meditations, poetry, cultural critique, biography and medical material. Some of her personal stories of pain, illness and death are unforgettable ... [Gleeson's]life was punctured by illness and the untimely death of intimates at several other junctures ... Her experiences are rendered vividly and with an admirable lack of self-pity ... Gleeson has an eye for telling detail ... Constellations has the makings of an enthralling memoir structured around these experiences. But although the first third of the book sets out in that direction, the remainder meanders. The other essays and poems feel as though they were written as separate pieces at different times and don’t enhance or engage with one another ... Gleeson’s essays have no formal consistency ... Gleeson’s book has a conversational style, and we feel we are in the company of an appealing, sharp-witted person, a member of a lively Irish artistic scene that her writing draws on to good effect. When she veers into cultural critique, however, her observations lose their fresh particularity.
...a collection of hard-won, highly-wrought, fiercely dazzling essays about life in one woman’s body ... Things are changing, thanks to tireless campaigners like Gleeson. These essays are political and they tell of how a life can be saved several times and lived to the full, despite great pain, despite great obstacles ... The essays are varied in form, breaking the boundaries between prose and poetry, using the white space of the page to experiment with free verse ... Something tells me that Constellations will be here a long time...
Most striking, perhaps, given the amount of suffering [Gleeson] has endured, is this absence of self-pity. Pain is a reason to look outwards, to find expressions of her experience in the work of artists who have given a voice to physical trauma ... There are essays...that will leave the reader wanting more, and one or two pieces that feel like filler, but it’s clear that Gleeson’s insight is hard-won, and that, like the women who inspire her, she has found a way to transmute her experience into something powerful that demands to be heard.
Alongside the essays on blood and ghosts there are pieces on hair, love, loss, motherhood, abortion and hospitals. Collectively, they give us a sketch of Gleeson’s life, while never claiming the definitiveness of an autobiography. What’s offered is something elliptical and fragmentary ... Pain...reverberates through the book ... [Gleeson] is particularly concerned with finding language that can describe illness at its most subjective ... Gleeson is an eloquent storyteller, and the stories are held in delicate balance with the analysis of her world ... Gleeson takes her form as far as it can go in addressing the complexities of her life and times, but there have been moments while reading all the recent essay-collection memoirs when I’ve missed the grittiness and expansiveness of a sustained argument ... Gleeson’s politics feel lighter, in keeping with her more literary form. But...hers is an ongoing project, and part of what’s so pleasing about her book is the sense that it remains unfinished, and open to her readers, as we bring to it our own experiences of sickness and childbirth, sadness and anger, blood and ghosts.
[Gleeson's] relationship with her body is both intimate and mundane, and she writes about pain with an absorbing intensity, telling stories of condescending doctors, creating metaphors that push the sanitized pain scale to its limits and, most passionately, describing artists who have rendered their pain into something more ... Constellations: Reflections From Life will make you think differently about the body in all its weaknesses and feel grateful to the artists and writers who—like Gleeson—have transfigured their suffering into a sacred creative release. Though Gleeson is skeptical of heaven, she finds solace in the stars and their many constellations. In this book, she offers us a unique map of her own constellations, one that has clearly helped her find her way when navigating a wide and painful world.
This stirring collection of personal essays from Irish radio broadcaster Gleeson effortlessly renders pain, both physical and emotional, into prose ... While 'in illness it is hard to find the right words,' Gleeson’s strong work shows it is worth the effort to search for them.