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.
On discovering her murdered husband’s body, an eighteenth-century Irish noblewoman drinks handfuls of his blood and composes an extraordinary lament. Eibhlín Dubh Ní Chonaill’s poem travels through the centuries, finding its way to a new mother who has narrowly avoided her own fatal tragedy. When she realizes that the literature dedicated to the poem reduces Eibhlín Dubh’s life to flimsy sketches, she wants more: the details of the poet’s girlhood and old age; her unique rages, joys, sorrows, and desires; the shape of her days and site of her final place of rest. What follows is an adventure in which Doireann Ní Ghríofa sets out to discover Eibhlín Dubh’s erased life—and in doing so, discovers her own.
Moving fluidly between past and present, quest and elegy, poetry and those who make it, A Ghost in the Throat is a shapeshifting book: a record of literary obsession; a narrative about the erasure of a people, of a language, of women; a meditation on motherhood and on translation; and an unforgettable story about finding your voice by freeing another’s.
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)
“Ní Ghríofa is a poet through and through: in this prose work she writes lyrical sentences that make the physical world come alive … It was around Ní Chonaill’s time that a new poetic form was invented: the aisling, a dream vision of Ireland revealing itself to the poet as a beautiful woman in need of saving. Ní Ghríofa certainly gives us a new, feminist vision of a woman saving another woman, righting a historical imbalance that persists in women’s continued sacrifices.”—New York Review of Books
“History mutes women; it also depends on them. This paradox is at the heart of a A Ghost in the Throat, an extraordinary literary memoir that finds life in buried spaces … Feminist and feminine, A Ghost in the Throat gives defiant voice to hushed womanhood, in all of its pain and glory. Her images incandescent and brutal, Ní Ghríofa writes about the omens represented by starlings and about unearthed fragments of teacups, but also about caesarean scars, bleeding hangnails, and the consuming fire of her husband’s touch … A Ghost in the Throat is an achingly gorgeous literary exploration that establishes a sisterhood across generations.”—Foreword Reviews (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
“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
“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
“It’s impossible to exaggerate my excitement for Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s unclassifiable, bewitching book, A Ghost in the Throat. It begins with a simple declaration: ‘This is a female text,’ and builds into a fascinating exploration of the historical and cultural erasure of women’s agency and perspectives … Enthralling and beautifully written, Ghost is a stunning achievement.”—Lori Feathers, Interabang Books (Dallax, TX)
“Two women, separated by centuries, haunt each other in Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s stunning blend of memoir, literary criticism, poetry, and history. A Ghost in the Throat beautifully captures how powerful a deep connection with a work of art can be. I am in awe of this book. It is everything I love about literature and more.”—Gael LeLamer, Books & Books (Key West, FL)
“Many writers have used classic literary works as a lens for examining their own lives, but none have ever given me the visceral thrill that Doireann Ní Ghríofa has. She doesn’t meditate on a mysterious 18th-century Irish lament, she wrestles with it, turning it over and over to reveal myriad intimate connections to modern motherhood and marriage. To read A Ghost in the Throat is to hold in your hands a living, beating heart.”—James Crossley, Madison Books (Seattle, WA)
“A mesmerizing blend of memoir, history and research that is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Simply brilliant.”—Shannon Alden, Literati Bookstore (Ann Arbor, MI)
“It is only right to read A Ghost in the Throat in the precious stolen moments of your own chaotic life. It is the only way to properly drink her crafted thoughts, her literary obsession, which hover through a life milk-stained-mundane. This book is a continued echo of silenced sighs of women, passed into words for each following generation to scour. Add this to your list, and know Doireann Ní Ghríofa feels your soul scream when you cross it off.”—Carrie Koepke, Skylark Bookshop (Columbia, MO)
“Earnest, lyrical, and truly indelible.”—Anakana Schofield, author of Bina