New Island has snapped up author and poet Nuala O’Connor’s fifth novel, a “tour de force” that reimagines the life of “Ireland’s greatest muse", Nora Joyce.
Commissioning editor Aoife K Walsh bought Irish rights for Nora: A Love Story of Nora Barnacle and James Joyce from Gráinne Fox at Fletcher & Company. Fox has also sold North American rights to Sarah Stein at Harper Books while German rights have gone to Suhrkamp.
The book begins when Nora Barnacle, a 20-year-old from Galway working as a maid at Finn’s Hotel, meets young James Joyce on a summer’s day in Dublin and is instantly attracted to him, but “she cannot yet imagine the extraordinary life they will share together”.
In real life, Joyce and Barnacle met in 1904 and their first date, on 16th June 1904, is the setting of his novel Ulysses, now known as Bloomsday. Barnacle and Joyce eloped later that year, moving to Trieste—though the two did not legally marry until 1931—and would spend most of the rest of their lives in continental Europe.
Galway-based O’Connor’s most recent novel was 2018’s Becoming Belle, based on the real-life Victorian era rags-to-riches story of the “peasant countess”, the Countess of Clancarty. She said her book was “an homage to Nora Barnacle as individual, woman, caretaker and mother, firstly, and, secondly, to Joyce as life-partner, father and genius writer. I try to look with empathy at this extraordinary couple who age and grow together, while negotiating the ordinary travails of life that so many of us deal with”.
New Island will publish in April 2021, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of Nora Joyce's death, and ahead of the centenary of Ulysses' original release. Walsh said: "Amid the excitement and mayhem of the Joyce household as they barrel around 20th-century Europe, Nora is at its heart a loving portrait of a strong, kind, loyal and passionate Irishwoman, in whose head and heart we are sure readers will have a smashing good time."