A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa

March 2022

I read this remarkable book almost entirely in one sitting, on a train from London to Edinburgh. I don’t quite know how to describe it. “This is a female text” are the opening words, and they are accurate. It’s a memoir of motherhood, an exploration of womanhood, a work of research into women lost to history, a study of translation, and a work of poetic beauty.

Ní Ghríofa - a contemporary poet whose unique and beautiful use of language shines through every page - recounts her years of raising young children while at the same time becoming somewhat obsessed with a woman who lived centuries before her: Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill, an Irishwoman who wrote a famous lament for her murdered husband in the 1800s. Ní Ghríofa’s self-sacrifices as a mother and woman become intertwined with those of Eibhlín Dubh, and her attempts to find out more about the woman who composed the lament (and to translate it from Irish into English) come to occupy almost her every waking moment, and history starts to blur with the present.

There are motifs that occur again and again in the book: milk and blood, silence and voice, presence and absence (physical and otherwise), the erasure of self and discovery of self. It’s an intense, affecting work of prose, one that juggles languages and eras with remarkable deftness. It’s a lot to take in and a lot to feel, and while I was completely absorbed by it, I was also somehow relieved to reach the end of it and return to my own life.

Further reading…