With all the attention so often given to the McCourt brothers and their vital contributions to what has become the Irish memoir industry, it's easy to forget just how popular - and brilliant - Nuala O'Faolain's "accidental memoir of a Dublin woman," entitled "Are You Somebody?" was when it was published a few years back.
This was a poignantly-told Irish life story which shot up the best-seller charts. And while "Are You Somebody?" had little of the grim poverty that became a trademark of so many Irish memoirs, it had energy, boldness and biting wit few others could match. O'Faolain offered up a big novel in 2000 entitled "My Dream of You," and while some critics found it a bit heavy, O'Faolain deserves credit for this ambitious undertaking. Now, she re-turns to the memoir with "Almost There," which begins just as O'Faolain's life is changing with the advent of her literary success.
This study of what O'Faolain calls the "crucible of middle age" gets off to a decidedly conflicted start, with the author admitting that: "I seemed successful, I knew... But when I looked at the private side of my life, all I could feel was regret, and all I could see was what I was missing."
A long-term relationship with a lover O'Faolain calls "Nell" ends bitterly (in real life O'Faolain did have a long-term relationship with Irish journalist Nell McCafferty) and a later affair with an older married man could be more fiction than fact, given the tormented emotions O'Faolain displays. "
Almost There" returns again and again to such complications, made all the more interesting given O'Faolain's late-coming success. Furthermore, the humor and poetry in Almost There should please fans of Are You Somebody? who might otherwise be skeptical of O'Faolain's return to the memoir form. (275 pages / $24.95 / Riverhead Books)