Perhaps you've had the same experience, but libraries have a way of encouraging me to pick up books I'd probably otherwise never browse much less commit to. This week, as I was searching for an (as it turned out, non-existant) copy of Susan Cain's Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, I stumbled across Irish author Nuala O'Faolain's memoir Almost There (Riverhead Books, 2003). Her name on the spine had caught my eye- I'd read and been impressed by her novel My Dream of You (Riverhead, 2001), but beyond that knew little about her.
Almost There was an uncannily appropriate find for the subject of introversion. I'm not quite at the end, but the memoir is a fascinating - if also profoundly sad- study in isolation. Behind the public persona of this newspaper columnist and novelist existed a painfully lonely woman, and she wrote with surprising candor about her lack of meaningful connection to others. Yet, when she was encouraged to try her hand at writing fiction (the book that would become My Dream of You) rather late in life, O'Faolain found that the experience began to change her in a way that journalism hadn't. She describes needing to fill the pages of her novel with action, and even the smallest events and activities began to turn her protagonist Kathleen into a character with a fate far different than Nuala's own:
So what happened to Kathleen wasn't just a by-product of the making of a fiction. I was changing, myself, in symbiosis with my heroine. Happiness - or if not happiness, a robust vision of how to manage its absence and live well- had crept up on me. It subverted my character's fatalistic progress toward self-immolation. It became not in character for Kathleen to live for love alone. She had become too widely life-loving to ruin her own life, even for honest passion perfectly expressed. I led her more and more slowly toward the scene where her lover puts the proposition to her. And when I got there, in a complete reversal of what I had set out to do..... she leaves him an elegant message ... that tells him no. She didn't want to turn into my mother.Nuala O'Faolain passed away from lung cancer in 2008, and I've yet to find out in Almost There whether the changes she has begun to describe gave life to a newer, happier existence in her last years (though it clearly hints that, at least to some extent, they had.) So often as readers, we consider how books have changed us, but how very remarkable hear how the process of writing just might change the writer as well.
Happy reading - and writing!