‘I have given no thought to the inner Julia’ – Trespassers by Julia O’Faolain

tjofIn the prologue to her memoir Trespassers, Julia O’Faolain’s husband asks her ‘Why do you never tell us about yourself? Who are you? Do you even know?’ to which, she responds:

‘I have given no thought to the inner Julia, and am most interested in observing other people’s behaviour than my own. Unlike him [her husband, Lauro], who likes to quote Plato about how the unexamined life is not the life of a man, what I want to know is what other people get up to, what they do as much as what they think.’

And so she frames her memoir with the story of her parents’ marriage and the many writers that were their friends. This works because they’re interesting people – her father, Sean O’Faolain, was Director of Publicity for the IRA following their defeat in the civil war in 1922-23 – and also because Julia moves around a lot, living in Rome, Paris, Florence, LA and Portland, meeting a wide ranging cast of characters along the way.

O’Faolain spends over half of the book on her childhood, telling us how she becomes ‘addicted’ to the folk tales her mother Eileen tells her, even though they terrify her; discussing the stories she hears about her father’s involvement in the IRA and how he moves away from them, and how, although she was taught by nuns, her mother staged small rebellions against them.

It seems that although O’Faolain says she doesn’t want to discuss ‘the inner Julia’, she is happy to establish her character through her relationships with her parents and events in her childhood.

The second half of the book concerns her various moves abroad, firstly to study and then alongside her husband to work. She speaks candidly about her own relationships and her father’s – he was notorious for his extra-marital relationships – painting the various characters in distinctive tones.

This is a well-written memoir giving an insight into life with two writer parents and a view of Ireland and Europe in the twentieth century.

Any Cop?: It is if you’re interested in any of the people involved or life in Ireland after the 1920s. It’s skillfully written, as you’d expect from an accomplished writer and, like most memoirs, is good for giving you a window into a world different to your own.

Naomi Frisby


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