Prior to the publication of her 1996 memoir Are You Somebody? Irish writer Nuala O’Faolain's name was familiar only to those who read her column in The Irish Times.
But Are You Somebody? became an instant success in Ireland, with its frank account of a troubled upbringing (a philandering father, an alcoholic mother) and of Nuala's own rather lengthy list of lovers, which apparently included relationships with married men when she herself was only fourteen years old. At one point in the film Nuala: A Life and Death we hear Nuala tell of her shock at discovering the changes that can occur in the life of someone who has written a memoir that "everyone was avid to read."
When Are You Somebody? was published in the United States shortly thereafter, a St. Patrick's Day appearance on the Today Show with Frank McCourt (author of the phenomenally successful Angela's Ashes) helped to make Nuala's memoir an international success. She moved to New York to continue working on her writing, and had some success with the publication of her first novel, My Dream of You, and Almost There, a 2003 sequel to her memoir. Her appearance at the Vancouver International Writers Festival in October 2007 sold out very quickly.
But in February of 2008 Nuala was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. Shortly after moving back to Dublin for treatment she gave an emotional and heartbreaking radio interview to her longtime friend, the broadcaster Marian Finucane, in which she described how it felt to learn she did not have long to live: "As soon as I knew I was going to die soon, the goodness went out of life." She died less than a month later at the age of 68.
Marian Finucane narrates the film, interviewing many of the people who knew Nuala at different stages in her life: family members, friends, colleagues and lovers. It is tempting to see Nuala as a tragedy: the story of a vital, intelligent woman cut down in her prime; a promising life cut short. But Nuala O’Faolain lived her life passionately, if not always wisely, and achieved a measure of success that few writers ever do.
These VIFF screenings mark the film's International Premiere. There is one screening remaining: on Sunday October 7th at 11:30 am at the Vancity Theatre.