Savage Dublin - Honor Molloy’s ‘Smarty Girl’ memoir
Cahir O'Doherty speaks with Honor Molloy about her debut
Smarty Girl, Honor Molloy’s autobiographical account of her tumultuous Irish childhood in 1960s Dublin, tells the story of her parents’ troubled marriage, her father’s epic destructiveness and her mother’s determination to save her family at any cost. Cahir O'Doherty talks to the Brooklyn based writer about overcoming the reflexive Irish reluctance to embroider the past and tell it straight, and how writing the new book has helped rescue her.
Stories make a straight path through the confusion of what happens. They clear the way. And in life the way usually needs to be cleared for us, before we can see the world for it is and what it has made us.
Irish people are good at telling stories. The trouble starts for us when we decide that there’s a right and wrong way to tell them.
We don’t have a big appetite for unvarnished reality, it turns out. Most of the horrors of our recent history could have been confronted and tackled decades earlier if we’d shared James Joyce’s impulse to have a good long look at ourselves.
Thank God for Ireland’s writers then. Since the foundation of the state they have shouldered the often unenviable task of holding a mirror up to the realities of Irish life and we’re indebted to them.
Though she might hesitate to see herself as part of that tradition, writer Honor Molloy’s candid and blistering memoir of a 1960s Dublin childhood, Smarty Girl, takes up the challenge of inviting us back to the tumult of her 1960s Dublin childhood with a lighthouse intelligence that doesn’t miss a stitch.
Molloy clears the way by making Smarty Girl fiction. Allowing herself the remove of making what happened in reality become a story happening to an invented character, she finds enough space to look her past in the eye.
That’s also why the language of Smarty Girl sings with the big eye wonder of childhood itself, because reading the book you’ll slowly understand that something is being released and what it turns out to be Molloy’s own captive spirit.
“I thought by writing fiction I could write a more true story than by writing a memoir,” she tells the Irish Voice, shrugging at the paradox.
“I think the impulse comes from the way I make theater (Molloy is an award winning playwright) every time it is always autobiographical. I had to add the parents and adult’s perspectives as a way to approach the serious themes of the book. I also ransacked my mother’s personal journals from that period and in that way you can actually hear the screams from the inside of the war zone of that house.”
Families that have experienced a massive disruptive crisis are not always intelligible to families that have not. They can begin to speak a different language, the language of despair and loss. They can begin to live like victims in the aftermath of an explosion, fated to wander around the edges of the smoking crater where their former selves had once lived peacefully, tasked with trying to make sense of what happened to them, and why.
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