Are you somebody? : the accidental memoir of a Dublin woman

by Nuala O'Faolain

Paper Book, 2009




New York : Henry Holt, 2009.


Are You Somebody is a moving and fascinating portrait of both Ireland and one of its most popular and respected commentators. This gem of honesty and insight had its first life as the introduction to a collection of Nuala O'Faolain's Irish Times columns that became a number-one bestseller in Ireland. It now stands alone. Ireland has fallen in love with this memoir of an Irish woman of letters, and now this country will too.


(198 ratings; 3.3)

User reviews

LibraryThing member whirled
Journalist Nuala O'Faolain's memoir has all the elements of a stereotypical mid-20th century Irish life - grinding poverty, rigid Catholicism, ingrained misogyny, violent father, mother bowed by alcoholism and a constant succession of pregnancies. Reading her story, it seems incredible that anybody
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ever emerges from such beginnings intact. Detailing just how she managed it, via a mix of steely determination and occasional dashes of good luck, O'Faolain makes Are You Somebody? a sometimes bleak but nonetheless compelling read.

One warning is that O'Faolain is rivaled only by Dominick Dunne in the name-dropping department, and many of the luminaries mentioned will mean nothing to non-Irish readers (like me). Beyond that, it offers a frank account of the life of a Dublin woman that is well worth reading.
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LibraryThing member Pregnant-reader
Her sense of humor and turn of phrase really made me love this book - also, her harsh yet accomplished life. I felt as though I was listening to her talk and I could do that forever. I wanted to be her by the end.
LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
I can't quite put my finger on what I found missing in this memoir. I think it may have been intended for an audience of which I am not a part--mainly women, of a certain age, with a background similar to the author's. I caught the longing for love, and the profound sadness of O'Faolain's young
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life, raised in a "small" Irish family of 9 children, with a mother doomed by her circumstances and a father for whom his wife and children were barely acquaintances. I've heard this truly desperate tale before. Somehow O'Faolain's telling of it failed to move me...UNTIL she began describing, in the afterword, the reactions of her readers to the book, and the affect those reactions had on her. The author came alive for me then, in a way she had not in the memoir itself. Clearly at the time of its publication, this book resonated with a lot of Irish women. For that reason, I will grant its importance. But I don't particularly recommend it.
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LibraryThing member PuddinTame
I gave up not too far into this one. The problem is that O'Faolain alternates between memories and brief, dry items from her resume. There is not necessarily any connection between the childhood anecdotes and the resume items that they are interspersed with. She announces that she did such-and-such
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a project with so-and-so. Perhaps anyone who is au courant with Ireland knows who and what she is talking about, but I don't. These little nuggets of information don't have any anecdotal value for those not in the know - they don't spin out into stories. The childhood bits simply weren't interesting enough to make up the parts that mean absolutely nothing to me.
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LibraryThing member readingrat
Quite a good memoir - very honest and real. I especially enjoyed the part of the book that details the responses (or lack thereof) to the initial publication of this book that the author received from a variety of people who knew the author or her family. Really interesting.
LibraryThing member pictou
I don't know--I just didn't get this book. The theme of it seemed to be that Irish life is soooo hard. The better book is [book: Angela's Ashes].
LibraryThing member MiscMayzee
I was left altogether with thinking this book was just barely okay. I wasn't sure why I didn't like it more exactly as I did read the whole volume. I think a former reviewer summed it up best. The resume aspects of the book overshadowed any of the real emotion that was in it.
LibraryThing member EmScape
If Ms. O'Faolain would stop name-dropping for a minute and talk about her actual life, I have no doubt this could be a readable tale. However, she seems to define her life by whom she knows, whom she hung out with back in the day, and long lists of literary works and authors she is familiar with.
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Now, I don't know a whole lot about Irish and English writers of the 19th and 20th centuries, and maybe if I did, I'd care more about what Ms. O'Faolain has to say about them, but I stopped reading this at Chapter 9.
Semi-redeeming qualities: the author seems quite candid about her experiences, and especially her failings as a young person. She is not trying to gloss over things or paint herself in a better light. She looks back on herself from a feminist perspective and discourses on how women were just becoming able to have prospects for a life besides getting married and popping out a bunch of kids.
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LibraryThing member LynnB
I am glad that so many people found this book inspiring. On balance, I did not. I was very interested in the story of Ms. O'Faolain's family and her life but was not at all familiar with most of the people, places or institutions she named. This left me confused and, frankly, bored for much of the
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book. It is not a book that "travels" to other cultures well. The parts about the experiences of women, especially middle-aged women, were excellent -- but there was a lot of material to sift through to get at it.
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LibraryThing member FHC
Sometimes I wonder if the cover recommendations refer to the same book as the one I’ve just read. An example here –Irish author, Frank McCourt's “You don’t want the book to end; it glows with compassion and you want more, more because you know this is a fine wine of a life, richer as it
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Frankly, for me this book was a struggle right from the beginning. Such degradation of children and adults that it left me longing for the book to end. To stop the sadness. For people to get wiser. To learn. To be better to each other.

Even writing from a different perspective of the challenges would have been an opportunity to leave a better taste in this reader’s mouth. If it weren’t for the Ireland Reading Challenge, I would not have completed the reading of these ongoing depressing scenarios. Definitely not how I want to spend my valuable reading moments.
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LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
I'm generally not one for memoirs or for the Irish stories, but this accidental memoir" and the picture on the cover look so intriguing I can't wait to read it!
Update - so far so depressing - I think it'll get better but gee Irish women had (have?) it rough.
Ok, I'm
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sorry, I had to give up. As other reviewers have said, it's awfully confusing if one doesn't already know her work or at least some of Irish culture, brand and place names, celebrities like her father... and she does do a bit too much 'stream of consciousness' and a bit too little coherence. That being said, I can see why it's popular for readers not disadvantaged by unfamiliarity - she does write a message of power with grace.

I guess I was hoping for (based on the word accidental in the title) memoirs of an ordinary Irish housewife, something like that..."
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LibraryThing member christinejoseph
good account of Irish childhood — finding self — trips — friends — lovers

Her midlife exploration of life's love, pain, loneliness, and self- discovery won her fans worldwide who write and tell her how her story has changed their lives. There are thousands who have yet to discover this
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extraordinary memoir of an Irish woman who has stepped away from the traditional roles to define herself and find contentment.
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LibraryThing member Icewineanne
An interesting read. Love her anecdotes of famous writers she met during her life. What really amazed me was how easily she jumped into casual sex with every man she met. Hah!!
LibraryThing member hemlokgang
The author narrates the audio version of this memoir in her lovely Irish voice, which enhances the lyrical nature of her writing. Via tales of childhood and adulthood, family, friends, and lovers the reader is drawn along on the author's search for identity and meaning. I walk away believing that
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meaning comes and goes, but we must put one foot in front of the other, in an effort to "be like the cat which does not know it will perish".
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Original publication date


Physical description

x, 227 p.; 21 cm


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