Readers will discover an incredible talent in O'Faolain, who's exceptional narrative skill and mature insight into human interactions make her first novel more than just a sad tale of growing up poor in Ireland or of a feminist mid-life crisis. MY DREAM OF YOU is a painful story of a woman who went looking for a blueprint of intimacy through sex and, 30 years later, realized that intimacy is rooted in self-worth.
Thirty years after she fled her homeland, Kathleen de Burca returns to Ireland to research a historical novel. Kathleen's trip is prompted by the death of her closest friend, an event that causes her to realize that her entire life is built around her job as a travel writer for a London-based magazine. Feeling unfulfilled by her life of hectic travel, deadlines, and one-night stands, Kathleen decides to trade in her career as a journalist to write a historical novel based on an obscure 1849 divorce case wherein an Englishwoman was accused of having an affair with an Irish servant. Thinking herself on the trail of a great love story, what Kathleen uncovers in this heartbreaking introspection on love and loneliness is her own difficult path as an independent, career woman that went looking for a passionate love in all the wrong ways.
Believing that the Englishwoman and her Irish lover would only have risked defying law and convention for the sake of an irresistible love, Kathleen speculates on how it is that some women find true and lasting love while others are lead to promiscuity and abusive relationships. This speculation leads Kathleen to a candid reflection of her own search for so-called "passion" through sexual submissiveness, promiscuity, and infidelities. Having always considered sex as a means to intimacy, the narrator tries to fathom how others succeed at finding love and companionship any other way. It is in these reflections that O'Faolain's narrative talent truly shines. Through Kathleen's eyes we get to see the missing link, the piece of the puzzle that she was looking for in her youthful escapades but unable to identify until now: self-worth. As Kathleen makes the connection between her destructive habits and her childhood, she realizes that her parents' example taught her about the kind of woman she didn't want to be, but not about what kind she did want to be.
The novel's finest moment comes when Kathleen, after long consideration on becoming someone's mistress, chooses to stop waiting for a man to choose her, deciding instead to go in search of her own life and love. MY DREAM OF YOU moves from being a heartbreaking testimony of the female experience on a par with Dickens to an uplifting novel who's message suggests that there is no need for a second chance at life, but simply the courage to live it as best one can.
Reviewed by Sofrina Hinton on February 5, 2002
My Dream of You