Saturday, July 14, 2012

Debussy Was My Grandfather

Debussy Was My Grandfather / The Madness of Vivien Leigh, published by CentreHouse Press, July 2012. A theme common to both these plays by Garry O’Connor is the emotional and psychological turmoil underneath the veil of public careers, with an uncompromising look at the undercurrents: the dysfunction of domestic/family life, in all its anguish and floridity. There’s a nicely judged balance between art in its moments of transcendence, and the reality underpinning it, with a flawed humanity put to the service of art. It’s a theme O’Connor has explored in a substantial body of work as novelist, biographer, and playwright.
 
In Campion’s Ghost (1994, novel and BBC 4 play), amid the religious strife of Elizabethan England, the poet John Donne rejects his Catholic upbringing to seek preferment at court. Yet his nature, his conscience and his passion for a mistress cause him constant torment. ‘That O’Connor manages to recreate figures such as John Donne and Elizabeth I in many complex and unexpected ways is a tribute to his skill. Donne becomes almost the symbol of his age. Not only is he at the heart of the Renaissance, but he also embodies in his private anguish the bloody battle between Catholicism and Protestantism.’ Sunday Times
 
In Chaucer’s Triumph (2007, novel) O’Connor takes on Chaucer at his own game in The Canterbury Tales, with a cast of storytellers, this time on a journey from Leicester to London, teasing out a tale of eroticism and intrigue. ‘O’Connor’s greatest achievement is his warm, wise, and humorous portrayal of the poet Chaucer.’ Historical Society Review
 
The Darlings of Downing Street (2007, biography) explores the personal contradictions of Cheri and Tony Blair in their relationship with power. ‘A highly charged assessment of a pair of ham actors who saw “politics as a performance art”.’ Sunday Express
 
Earlier, The Darlings of the Gods (biography, novel, and mini-series, 1989), forerunner of The Madness of Vivien Leigh, shows the marriage of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier already under strain.
‘The mythology of one of the century’s most celebrated marriages…a brilliantly perceptive portrait.’ The Observer
 
‘With real insight O’Connor gets plausibly close to what made Olivier and wife tick as artists…a penetrating, utterly objective mind at work.’ Irish Times
 
‘Compulsive…the pair who were Charles and Di, Torville and Dean, Tragedy and Comedy, Scylla and Charybdis all rolled into one.’ Vogue

Debussy Was My Grandfather, by Garry O'Connor, is published by CentreHouse Press.