The readers of Ōtautahi were out in force Friday evening and packed The Piano to hear Irish author and broadcaster Noelle McCarthy discuss her magnificent memoir, Grand.
For a memoir about death, addiction and difficult familial relationships this was the most I have ever laughed at an author event. After an extensive introduction, topics including the hubris of writing a memoir during midlife, why “the Irish just make better tea”, the bankability of having a masters in gothic literature and the unique vernacular of Cork City were all poked fun at.
A lot of the questions circled back to the idea of siblings and family and how it is possible to be biologically related and grow up in the same house but still “have different mammy’s” and “grow up in different families”.
A highlight was a discussion of the role religion played in her mother’s life. Being from New Zealand it is hard to understand how deeply ingrained the Catholic religion is to the people of Ireland, especially people of a certain generation. Noelle explained how her mother’s style of religion was heavily entwined with superstition and this led to a fascinating aside into the pagan history of Ireland, the spirits of dead relatives and witches, “witches are just very powerful women '' got a great cheer from the audience.
Near the end Noelle gave an emotional reading of a passage from the memoir where she takes her new born daughter to Cork City to meet her grandmother. Her mother shares the traumatic experience she had giving birth in Dublin in the 1970s under the eyes of unsympathetic nurses. There was hardly a dry eye left in the building.
I could wax lyrical all day about the interesting insights shared over the course of the hour, so instead I just recommend you get a copy and enjoy it for yourself.
This was a truly special event and in the very capable hands of interviewer Julie Hill it had the feeling of a great conversation between 2 friends with the audience being lucky enough to overhear. The event ended with a hearty round of applause and a rush to line up and get a copy signed by the author herself.