An Post Irish Book Awards Nonfiction Book of the Year • A Guardian Best Book of 2020 • Shortlisted for the 2021 Rathbones Folio Prize • Shortlisted for the 2021 Republic of Consciousness Prize
When we first met, I was a child, and she had been dead for centuries. I am eleven, a dark-haired child given to staring out window … Her voice makes it 1773, a fine day in May, and puts English soldiers crouching in ambush; I add ditch-water to drench their knees. Their muskets point towards a young man who is falling from his saddle in slow, slow motion. A woman hurries in and kneels over him, her voice rising in an antique formula of breath and syllable the teacher calls a caoineadh, a keen to lament the dead.
In the eighteenth century, on discovering her husband has been murdered, an Irish noblewoman drinks handfuls of his blood and composes an extraordinary lament that reaches across centuries to the young Doireann Ní Ghríofa, whose fascination with it is later rekindled when she narrowly avoids fatal tragedy in her own life and becomes obsessed with learning everything she can about the poem Peter Levi has famously called “the greatest poem written in either Ireland or Britain” during its era. A kaleidoscopic blend of memoir, autofiction, and literary studies, A Ghost in the Throat moves fluidly between past and present, quest and elegy, poetry and the people who make it.
Praise for A Ghost in the Throat
“A Ghost in the Throat moves between past and present with hallucinogenic intensity as the narrator uncovers the details of the dead woman's life, each revelation deepening her own sense of herself as a writer and a woman and creating in the process a brave and beautiful work of art.”—Republic of Consciousness Prize
“A Ghost in the Throat is something strange and very special: a ravishingly immersive telling of the way in which a poet and mother's obsession with a poet and mother who died centuries ago makes their different lives chime like bells.”—Emma Donoghue
"A fascinating hybrid work in which the voices of two Irish female poets ring out across centuries. 'When we first met, I was a child, and she had been dead for centuries,' writes Ní Ghríofa in her first work of prose—and what a debut it is. Earning well-deserved accolades abroad, the book merges memoir, history, biography, autofiction, and literary analysis... Lyrical prose passages and moving introspection abound in this unique and beautiful book."—Kirkus (starred review)
"One of the best books of this dreadful year ... Billed as a genre-busting blend of ‘autofiction, essay, scholarship, sleuthing and literary translation’, the book is an extraordinary feat of ventriloquism delivered in a lush, lyrical prose that dazzles readers from the get-go ... When you write like this there is almost nothing a writer cannot get away with."—Sunday Times
“Past versus present, blood versus milk, birth versus death, the Irish language versus the English: dichotomies abound, but the questions of women’s lived experiences and who history remembers link them all.”—Paris Review
"A book like this comes along once every few years and obliterates every clear definition of genre and form. I mean no exaggeration here: A Ghost in the Throat is astounding and utterly fresh."—Irish Independent
"With luminous language and candid details, this book shimmers with honesty and scholarship. A truly original read."—Sunday Independent
“Working from Eibhlín Dubh’s famous poem, 'Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire', and her own research, the author manages to get closer to this historic woman than any other person has ever done before … Her account is so vivid that we are almost there, with the pregnant Eibhlín Dubh on horseback, when she comes upon the body of her murdered husband and is so overcome with grief that she scoops up his blood and drinks it.”—Clodagh Finn
“I wish to shout because this book is so profoundly beautiful and so beautifully profound—a female text with so much to say about the ways we serve others (our families, our homes, our obsessions) and the ways that serving shapes us, and how being alone is never being alone, and how imagination always leaves us a few truths short, but it is what we have, it is the best we can do, it may even be the best of us. Imagination yields. It has given us the genuine miracle of A Ghost in the Throat.”—Cleaver Magazine
“Earnest, lyrical, and truly indelible.”—Anakana Schofield, author of Bina