One of our recommended books is Nora by Nuala O'Connor

NORA

A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce


Acclaimed Irish novelist Nuala O’Connor’s bold reimagining of the life of James Joyce’s wife, muse, and the model for Molly Bloom in Ulysses is a “lively and loving paean to the indomitable Nora Barnacle” (Edna O’Brien).

Dublin, 1904. Nora Joseph Barnacle is a twenty-year-old from Galway working as a maid at Finn’s Hotel. She enjoys the liveliness of her adopted city and on June 16—Bloomsday—her life is changed when she meets Dubliner James Joyce, a fateful encounter that turns into a lifelong love. Despite his hesitation to marry, Nora follows Joyce in pursuit of a life beyond Ireland,

more …

Acclaimed Irish novelist Nuala O’Connor’s bold reimagining of the life of James Joyce’s wife, muse, and the model for Molly Bloom in Ulysses is a “lively and loving paean to the indomitable Nora Barnacle” (Edna O’Brien).

Dublin, 1904. Nora Joseph Barnacle is a twenty-year-old from Galway working as a maid at Finn’s Hotel. She enjoys the liveliness of her adopted city and on June 16—Bloomsday—her life is changed when she meets Dubliner James Joyce, a fateful encounter that turns into a lifelong love. Despite his hesitation to marry, Nora follows Joyce in pursuit of a life beyond Ireland, and they surround themselves with a buoyant group of friends that grows to include Samuel Beckett, Peggy Guggenheim, and Sylvia Beach.

But as their life unfolds, Nora finds herself in conflict between their intense desire for each other and the constant anxiety of living in poverty throughout Europe. She desperately wants literary success for Jim, believing in his singular gift and knowing that he thrives on being the toast of the town, and it eventually provides her with a security long lacking in her life and his work. So even when Jim writes, drinks, and gambles his way to literary acclaim, Nora provides unflinching support and inspiration, but at a cost to her own happiness and that of their children.

With gorgeous and emotionally resonant prose, Nora is a heartfelt portrayal of love, ambition, and the quiet power of an ordinary woman who was, in fact, extraordinary.

less …
  • Harper Perennial
  • Paperback
  • January 2021
  • 496 Pages
  • 9780062991720

Buy the Book

$16.99

indies Bookstore indies Bookstore

About Nuala O'Connor

Nuala O'Connor is the author of NoraNuala O’Connor was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1970. A graduate of Trinity College Dublin, she is a novelist and short story writer, and lives in County Galway with her husband and three children. Nuala has won many prizes for her short fiction including the Short Story Prize in the UK and Ireland’s Francis MacManus Award. She is editor at flash e-zine Splonk.

Praise

“An exceptional novel by one of the most brilliant contemporary Irish writers, this is a story of love in all its many seasons, from ardent sexuality to companionable tenderness, through strength, challenge, and courage. Nuala O’Connor has brought to vivid life a woman about whom every literature lover has surely wondered and has done so with immense skill and daring.” -Joseph O’Connor, author of Star of the Sea and Shadowplay

“This is a woman’s story of craving female friendship, tending children, and supporting a wayward wanderer while always loving—and being loved by—him.”
-Kirkus Reviews

“[A] poignant, comprehensive portrait of Nora Barnacle as a young woman, mother, and literary inspiration for the Molly Bloom character in Ulysses. . . . Narrated in Nora’s robust voice and carried by details saturated in filth . . . . O’Connor’s admirable accomplishment adds to the abundant Joyceana with a moving examination of an unforgettable family.” -Publishers Weekly

Discussion Questions

1. Nora Barnacle and James Joyce were from different social backgrounds. Joyce’s family were the fallen genteel, keen on schooling, for boys at least; Nora’s people were working class and education was not a priority. Despite their differences, their relationship worked. Why do you think that was? What attracted them to each other? What united them?

2. Nora was fostered to her grandmother at a young age, a common practice in twentieth century Ireland. Do you think this may have affected her family relationships and subsequent ones too? In what ways did Nora bond with those closest to her?

3. “I can muddle through with most people and, I think, life’s easier on those who can,”Nora says. Jim, on the other hand, can be odd around people. What does friendship mean to Nora? Is she a good friend? A competent host? Why does the Joyce’s friend-group change so often, even when they live for long periods in one place?

4. Nora and Jim, judging by their letters when apart, had a frank, open sexual relationship. Discuss whether you feel this might have been the norm for the era, or if the Joyces were unusual. Who do you feel was driving this openness –Nora or Jim? In what ways did they use intimacy as a way to bond? What did Jim want from the other women he fantasized about?

5. Why do you think Jim won’t marry Nora? Is it anything to do with his status as a lapsed Catholic? Why does Nora want to marry? Do you think Nora is happy with the circumstances of her marriage, when it finally happens, after twenty-seven years with Jim?

6. The Joyces’ financial situation is, often, precarious. Nora says Jim “sees money only as something to be got rid of.”Are the Joyces irresponsible around money? What do you make of Jim’s money-making schemes –the cinema in Dublin? The idea to import Irish tweed? Why do you think the Joyces spend so freely? What is Giorgio’s relationship with money in his adult life?

7. Joyce is supported by women, both emotionally and financially. Nora, Miss Weaver, and Sylvia Beach all play their part. Does Joyce appreciate their help? Does he acknowledge it? What is Joyce’s attitude toward women?

8. Nora warns Jim: “If you want to write, you must make the time to write. Boozing and carousing will get you nowhere.”Why do you think James Joyce drinks to excess? What damage does it do to his relationships? Is he an alcoholic? Does his devotion to alcohol hinder his writing life? Does Nora aid his drinking in any way?

9. Nora enjoys opera and certain kinds of books, but Jim says that she doesn’t “care a rambling damn for art.”Is that true? Is Jim snobbish when it comes to literature and art? Is that his right, considering the types of books he writes himself?

10. Giorgio and Lucia both end up as lost souls in many ways –Lucia in an asylum and Giorgio in a bad marriage and then career-less. Lucia was diagnosed with schizophrenia, but do you think any of her other problems were a result of Nora and Jim’s style of parenting? What about Giorgio? Do you think the Joyce children’s uprooted childhood may have affected them? Were other factors at play?

11. What does Nora want from life? Does she get what she wants and needs? Is James Joyce a help or a hindrance to Nora’s hopes and dreams? What rewards in life does Nora enjoy after Jim’s death?

12. Home is important to Nora. In what ways is this obvious in the novel? Is Nora adaptable to each new circumstance and, if so, why and how? Does Nora ever find the home she yearns for? Do you think she had a happy life with James Joyce?

Excerpt

Muglins

Dublin

JUNE 16, 1904

WE WALK ALONG BY THE LIFFEY AS FAR AS RINGSEND. THE river smells like a pisspot spilling its muck to the sea. We stop by a wall, Jim in his sailor’s cap, looking like a Swede. Me in my wide-brim straw, trying to throw the provinces off me.

“Out there are the Muglins Rocks,” Jim says, pointing out to sea. “They have the shape of a woman lying on her back.”

His look to me is sly, to see if I’ve taken his meaning. I have and our two mouths crash together and it’s all swollen tongues and drippy spit and our fronts pressed hard and a tight-bunched feeling between my legs. His hands travel over my bodice and squeeze, making me gasp.

“Oh Jim,” is all I can manage to say and I step away from him.

“You have no natural shame, Nora,” he says, and he’s coming at me now with his thing out of his trousers and in his hand, that one-eyed maneen he’s no doubt very fond of. It looks, I think, like a plum dressed in a snug coat.

“No natural shame?” I say. “Don’t be annoying me. Do you think because I’m a woman that I should feel nothing, want nothing, know nothing?” But I dip my nose to his neck for a second, the better to breathe his stale porter, lemon soap smell. Span-new to me.

Jim squints and smiles. I kneel on the ground before him, my face before his tender maneen, glance up at him; Jim drops his head, the better to see my mouth close over it. The taste is of salt and heat, the feeling is thick and animal. I suck, but only for a spell, then I draw back and peck the length of it with my lips. I stand.

“There,” I say, “there’s a kiss as shameful as Judas’s and don’t tell me it isn’t exactly what you wanted, Jim Joyce.”

A groan. He wants that bit more, of course, but that might be enough for today, our first time to walk out together. We kiss again and he lingers in my mouth, wanting to enjoy the taste of himself on my tongue. His paws travel over me, front and back. Oh, but he’s relentless. So I unbutton him, put my hand into his drawers, and wrap cool fingers around his heat. A gasp. I work him slow, slow, fast until he’s pleasured, until my fist is warm and wet from him.

“You’ve made a man of me today, Nora,” Jim says, a coddled whisper, and I smile. It’s rare to have a fellow say such a thing and I feel a small bit of power rise up through me, a small bit of joy.

I wipe myself with my handkerchief and Jim fixes his clothes. I hold out my hand and Jim takes it and together we walk on.