Nessa O'Mahoney's In Sight of Home
All of us are traveling – at some point in our lives – whether we want to or not. Strangely enough, we often travel in tandem with others at different times – say, like, in centuries, or even eras, and Nessa O'Mahony's, In Sight of Home, a novel in verse, unevenly and successfully illustrates this concept.
Home tells the story- through letters, journal excerpts, and poetry, of two, actually, three women – Margaret, Lizzy, and Fiona - searching for personal, and, in Fiona's case, professional fulfillment. In the beginning of Home, Fiona, a writer/poet, discovers the story of Margaret Butler and her serving girl Lizzie, two women who emigrated (based on actual historical accounts of the Butler family) from Mother Ireland to Australia at the latter half of the 1800's. Various personal issues, and what seems to be an overwhelming case of ennui force Fiona, along with her treasure trove of letters, to pull up stakes from Ireland to resettle in Wales.
It's worth noting that in the United States, the Irish diaspora to America has been documented to death through various books and films, but not so much their immigration to Australia/New Zealand. With the notable exception of Colleen McCullough's watershed victory of The Thorn Birds (Richard Chamberlain wasn't fooling anyone back then), I, in my limited literary travels, I haven't come across much, and it's refreshing, as the third generation descendent of Irish immigrants, to read another version of the tale.
That being said, In Sight of Home, is, at first, difficult to approach; a novel in verse buoyed by epistolary tracks, along with the swiftly shifting points of back and forth from the mid-19th to the 21st centuries, is a bit dizzying. The universal themes of womanhood, along with O'Mahoney's excellent and well-crafted verse, save Home from a land of literary confusion. Whether it's Margaret's obsession to maintain the status quo while occupying what she considers to be “alien soil,” or Lizzy's struggle to make a place for herself in the Butler household, or Fiona's quest for an identity outside her familial boundaries, each one's journey is honestly and painfully expressed. As Home progresses, and Fiona delves further into the story of the Butler clan, her own life, both internally and externally, takes on aspects of Margaret's and Lizzie's, particularly when the question of motherhood arises, as in “Extracts from Fiona Sheehan's journal, 16th May, 2003”:
Three weeks late.
Each morning the trip,
the wait, the stomach lurch
at finding no red
dotting the towel,
The bathroom closes in,
I take the kit out of the bag
crinkled with constant opening
Nausea rises -
it could be a sign
or just nerves.
But I know what I don't want:
has no claims on me.
It's too late for that;
I've watched friends, paid dues
with visits, teddies, the odd poem.
Not my time.
I put the box back, resolve
to wait a while longer.
In Sight of Home is an ambitious work, combining vastly different literary genres, as well as different eras into a provocative and rewarding read. O'Mahony has set the literary bar higher with her new offering regarding the universal and ongoing story of womanhood. It's enough to inspire me to consider writing a novel in verse (considering at this stage only), and it's given me a whole new appreciation for the depth and bravery of O'Mahony as a poet, in that she is fearless, and evolved enough, to take risks.
In Sight of Home, copyright 2009 Nessa O'Mahony, Salmon Poetry (www.salmonpoetry.com), ISBN 978-907056-07-9, 195 pages, $26.95 (US retail).
Bio: Nessa O'Mahony was born and lives in Dublin. Her poetry has appeared in a number of Irish, UK, and North American periodicals, has been translated into several European languages. She won the National Women's Poetry Competition in 1997 and was subsequently shortlisted for the Patrick Kavanagh Prize and Hennessy Literature Awards. Her second poetry collection, Trapping a Ghost, was published by bluechrome publishing in 2005 and her third, The Side Road to Star, is forthcoming from bluechrome in 2009. She was awarded an Irish Arts Council literature bursary in 2004 and an Artist's Bursary from South Dublin County Council in 2007. She is currently Artist in Residence at the John Hume Institute for Global Irish Studies, University College, Dublin. She is Assistant Editor of UK literary journal Orbis.