Saturday, 10 January 2009
A Dance in Time by Orna Ross
Penguin Ireland €17.54
ISEULT Gonne's was an unfortunate second-hand life - half-acknowledged child of WB Yeats's muse; half-French, half-Irish; mistily involved with the married Ezra Pound; abandoned by Francis Stuart when he chose Germany and other lovers.
My mother once told me that Iseult was stunningly beautiful. When she walked into a room, every man went unconsciously to straighten his tie.
But as soon as her aged mother entered, it was as if Iseult had become invisible: Maud Gonne's blazing beauty obliterated her.
Orna Ross - teacher, journalist, literary agent, counsellor, writer - has wrapped Iseult's story within another.
The gigantic book is full of antique scandal: the sensational divorce of Maud Gonne and Major John MacBride is rehearsed here. MacBride, a hard-drinking soldier, denied the whispered charge of sexually abusing Iseult.
Ross, who is sick with cancer at the moment, used the relationship between Maud and Iseult Gonne and a fictional writer and her daughter, as a template for a meditation on the nature of daughterhood.
The book could have done with cutting by a third to sharpen the stories that really matter - but her style is so wonderful that even the dull in-between bits are almost a pleasure to read.
For anyone intrigued by the matching of art and idealism that gave birth to our state, this provide a fascinating insight.