“This is a female text, composed while folding someone else’s clothes. My mind holds it close, and it grows tender and slow, while my hands perform innumerable chores.”
This novel is exceptional. It’s beautiful, moving and speaks about women’s experience in such a unique, but brutally honest way. The author has written an incredible piece of auto-fiction, which is half memoir and half novel but all poetry. While I can’t claim to be anything like the writer, I know this is the way I’m currently writing at the moment – as close to poetry as prose can get. I have always referred to it in my notes as a patchwork quilt of different images stitched together to make the whole. Our narrator is a mother of three small children and she has a fascination with the Irish poem ‘Caoineadh Airt Ui Laoghaire’ where an Irish noblewoman laments the death of the her murdered husband. Such is her passionate grief, that on finding his body, she drinks handfuls of his blood and then composes this extraordinary poem. For our narrator, the poem has echoed down the centuries and is her constant companion. As she reads it aloud the poet’s voice comes to life. The author writes her own life to its rhythms and wants to discover the truth of the poem’s story.
Entitled a ‘dirge and a drudge song’ the author details that drudgery, the minutiae of her day and her boredom and satisfaction in the endless tasks she ticks off the list. Repeating ‘this is a female text’ creates a refrain throughout the list, emphasising not just the physical but the mental load. She comments on it gaining importance through the written page, an importance that’s usually reserved for male stories. Women’s skills and stories have previously lacked importance because they are passed down orally, from mother to daughter along with home making skills like recipes and patterns. I loved this context because it’s inspiring. It tells us that our stories are important too. Just because they’re domestic doesn’t mean they’re less than. They are simply a social history rather than a military or political one. This is shown in the fact that, despite the poem being described as ‘the greatest poem written in these islands in the whole of the eighteenth century’ the history of the poet herself is hard to uncover. In the family, a tragedy almost occurs, and in the aftermath the author’s interest in the poet grows. However, it’s a very broken and hidden trail to find her.
I loved how her recording of 21st Century motherhood is treated as an epic. I loved the sense of a collective consciousness running through the book. As if her words join hundreds and thousands of others in a never ending stream of female consciousness. This isn’t just about putting your experience into the world, it’s about having a source of female wisdom to draw from whenever you need it. The poem is part of that consciousness, but so are many other papers we don’t think about as historical documents. In my work I’ve used the care sheets that I kept every day for my late husband, because they show what I was doing and I loved connecting them to more lyrical documents like my journal. The author adds to these collective documents, with her ‘family calendar scrawled with biro and pencil marks, each in the same hand – this is a female text. Month after month after month of appointments, swim lessons, half-days, bake sales, fundraisers, library returns, a baby’s due-date, birthday parties, and school holidays. Tick. Tick. Tick.’ They are not accounts of battles or elections won, but there are a thousand small victories here. If we think about how we leave our mark on this world we should think about all the ways we record our lives on this earth, from our Spotify playlist, our status updates, our Instagram photos, our Pinterest boards. All of these are a form of journal, the quiet way we express who we are and what’s happening in our worlds. We write ourselves into the cross stitch we do, the crocheted blankets, and the patchwork quilt we made for a new baby. We stitch ourselves into the tapestry of life, and the author emphasises this, with words so descriptive I could picture her and the family she works so hard for. This is a female text and in it’s search for the meaning of women’s lives it is reassuring, it lets us know we’re not alone, but it also inspires us all to create meaning. To add our voice to the women’s wisdom, expanding that collective consciousness and making our mark.
Meet The Author.
DOIREANN NÍ GHRÍOFA is a bilingual writer whose books explore birth, death, desire, and domesticity. Doireann’s awards include a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a Seamus Heaney Fellowship, the Ostana Prize and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. She is a member of Aosdána. A Ghost in the Throat is her prose debut.