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Even the stars in Ireland have literary connotations.I stared up hoping to see a comet or a shooting star, a sign of some sort, something special I could make a wish on.I wonder now why I ever wanted to be your friend in the first place. The need to be seen hanging around with an Important Man. You always believed that thirteen was an unlucky number. So it was absolutely true that his mother has been in the employ of James Joyce for as long as he could remember.
It is actually a number of adjoining rooms; a spacious study with wide bay windows allowing for the best view of the lake, a bedroom closed off with folding doors and a bathroom. Despite the jetlag and the wine, I can’t sleep, so some time after midnight I give up and go outside to look up at the northern hemisphere constellation.
In rural Monaghan the night sky is clear and I can immediately pick out the starry plough.
We met when I was sixteen and have been sweethearts ever since.
I would have liked to say that about a living man, the way famous writers do in their acknowledgements of their latest novel, thanking their ‘loving husband, without whose unceasing patience and support etc,etc’. Until I realised how annoying it must be to live in the shadow of another man, and a dead one at that.‘Writers are a scourge for those they cohabit with,’ says Edna O’Brien in her book on James Joyce.
’ I snapped back immediately, appalled that he dared to doubt my enterprise. The final sentence reads: ‘A way a lone a last a loved a long the’Who ever ended a book with the word ‘the’?
This is not the first time I’ve broken up with Joyce.My companion waved the bottle away and then cocked his head to one side, asking me to speak up, explaining he had recently suffered sudden and complete hearing loss in one ear.Immediately I was reminded of the central male character in characters, has multiple names and identities.A couple of years ago I decided we were in a co-dependent relationship. Some might think that travelling to Ireland in order to give up an Irishman is just asking for trouble.Except how could that be true if I was the only dependent one? But I see it as similar to the alcoholic who has to be comfortable at a table full of rollicking drinkers.Which was why I realised that adding my own unsophisticated southern-hemisphere thoughts to the gazillion books and articles already written about Joyce was a complete waste of effort. And yet here I am, having finally given up on the enterprise altogether, only to find myself seated at a long table with thirteen artists from all over the world – and James Joyce at my side. Or at the very least, an ‘unexpected simultaneity’.I have been allocated the Butler room, named after Hubert Butler, Tyrone Guthrie’s brother-in-law, and the most coveted room in the entire estate.The truth is that there would be no Joyce without the three women who supported him: Nora, his life-long partner, Sylvia Beach, the first publisher of , and Harriet Shaw Weaver, his benefactor. Chance indeed furnished him with exactly what he needed. He was from India, sent to Australia for his education at great expense by his parents. Like so many before me, I have come to realise that there is a reason why Joyce’s nickname is Mr Difficulty.So he certainly doesn’t need another handmaiden in the form of a small-time Australian essayist. I felt sorry for him so I had invented some cash-in-hand filing work, much of which involved compiling notes, essays, articles, emails and letters in relation to Now he was daring to ask whether the book I’d spent much of my adult life devoted to was really of any importance.‘Yes! Novelist and playwright Thornton Wilder was a serious One of the first and most important Wakean scholars was an Australian named Clive Hart. I tracked him down when he was well into retirement, hoping he might provide a clue, given he had written one of the definitive texts: is that it is, in an important sense, unreadable.’ And in any case, the end isn’t really the end.Joyce had a knack for picking up just what he needed.‘Chance furnishes me with what I need,’ he wrote, ‘I’m like a man who stumbles; my foot strikes something, I look down, and there is exactly what I need.’ Nora Barnacle was the most important chance stumble of his life.