Mary Morrissy


Life
1957- ; trained Rathmines School of Journalism; worked in Australia; sub-ed. Irish Press; won Hennessy award, 1984; sub-ed., Irish Press; then Irish Times; received US semi-anonymous fiction award of $50,000 from Lannan Foundation, LA, with A Lazy Eye [1994], containing 15 stories; also a first novel, Mother of Pearl (1995), about a woman threatened by TB and her desperate determination to have a child; The Pretender (2000), a novel dealing with the history of the Romanov claimant Anastasia; reviews frequently in The Irish Times.

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Works
Fiction, A Lazy Eye (q.d.; rep. Vintage 1995), 15 stories; also a first novel, Mother of Pearl (Jonathan Cape 1995), 256pp.; The Pretender (London: Jonathan Cape 2000), 256pp.

Miscellaneous, reviews incl. Edna O’Brien, In the Forest (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson), in The Irish Times [Weekend], 23 March, 2002. Also, contrib ‘Gracefully, Not Too Fast’, to Caroline Walsh, ed., Arrows in Flight: Stories from a New Ireland (Dublin: TownHouse; UK & US: Scribner 2002), pp.267-90; review of New Selected Stories, by Alice Munro, in The Irish Times (1 Oct. 2011), Weekend, p.13; review of Blue Nights, by Joan Didion, in The Irish Times (19 Nov. 2011), Weekend, p.12; review of The Light of Amsterdam, by David Park, in The Irish Times (28 April 2012), Weekend, p.11.

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Criticism
Alex Clark, ‘A child from the sea’, review of Mother of Pearl, in Times Literary Supplement (12 Jan. 1995), p.20 [extract]; [q.a.,] review of Mother of Pearl, in Irish Times (20 Jan. 1995), p.9 [see extract]; [q.a.], ‘Triumph of the Imagination’, interview, Books Ireland (Feb. 1996), pp.5-6; John Boland, review of Mother of Pearl, in Irish Times (1 Oct.1996), Weekend, p.8 [see extract]; Gerry Smyth, The Novel and the Nation: Studies in the New Irish Fiction (London: Pluto Press 1997) [on Mother of Pearl], pp.91-93; [q.a.], review of The Pretender, in Books Ireland (March 2000), p.81 [see extract]; Clare Messud, review of The Pretender (Cape), in The Irish Times ( 12 Feb. 2000, [Weekend]) [see extract].

See also Linden Peach, The Contemporary Irish Novel: Critical Readings (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2004), Chap. 7 - ‘Mater Dolorosa’: abject mothers in Roddy Doyle’s The Snapper (1990) and Mary Morrissy’s Mother of Pearl (1995).

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Commentary
Alex Clark, ‘A Child from the Sea’, review of Mother of Pearl, in Times Literary Supplement (12 Jan. 1995); ‘Water is the central motif of this finely wrought tale of a kidnapped baby, appearing variously as sea, river and lake, a medium that both supports and submerges, connects and divides, heals and destroys; Irene Rivers; tuberculosis diagnosed; insular character; mother disowns her; father ‘had to go away; sanatorium chancer coerces her into relieving his sexual frustration; kinder, gentler man (Stanley) marries her; Morrissy’s central idea of a single life as a piece of fiction either successfully or unsuccessfully achieved is thoroughly convincing; Irene after a phantom pregnancy berates herself “not for the untruth she had told but for failing to sustain the dream of a child”; second part shifts to parents of a stolen baby, their journey through grief and guilt of sudden and inexplicable loss; Hollywood films that Mel watches as an ussher; Rita betrayed by her truncated adolescence and shotgun marriage; turn to religious fervour and morbid fear of water; ; Pearl returned at age of four; Mel shot through the eye is as a result of Rita’s religious mania; culmination of Pearl’s double life in act of appalling self-violence; lyrical and poignant novel.’ (p.20.)

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[Q.a.,] review of Mother of Pearl, in Irish Times (20 Jan. 1995); ‘formidable first novel; when Irene Rivers is removed [from TB sanatorium] after six years by marriage to a middle-aged mammy’s boy, all she knows is that marriage is followed by motherhood. Stanley can’t cope with sex but Irene needs a baby, so she goes to a hospital and steals one; the early sequences are outstanding’. (p.9.)

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[Q.a.,] ‘Triumph of the Imagination’, interview, Books Ireland (Feb. 1996), used Noel Browne’s Against the Tide for information on the TB epidemic; details of career and reaction to the Lannan Foundation award. (pp.5-6.)

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[Q.a .,] review of The Pretender, in Books Ireland (March 2000); ‘Maybe this isn't really a novel because it's about a real person: the Polish factory worker who claimed to be Anastasia, the daughter of the last Tzar. On the other hand, although Morrissy studied her subject in some depth, she has more or less invented her story before she came to the world's attention. She peels the onion-skins off the woman who lived a lie so convincingly that only a DNA test after her death finally proved she was not a Romanov.’ (p.81.)

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Clare Messud, reviewing The Pretender (Cape), writes that ‘does not flinch from the harrowing’; woman who claimed ot be Grand Duchess Anastasia, fourth dg. of last Csar; novel ‘builds not forwards but backwards, delving ever deeper into the imagined past of the ruined young woman (Franziska Schanzowkska) who stole Anastasia’s name; ‘powerful, disturbing book’ explores ‘the universal queswtion of individual identity in a fallen world.’ (Irish Times, Weekend, 12 Feb. 2000.)

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Notes
Summer Books” [annual column], in The Irish Times (24 June 2000), compiled by Rosita Sweetman: Mary Morrissey is reading Shirley Hazzard’s Greene on Capri, recalls her novel The Transit of Venus; and cites The Broken Estate on Literature and Belief.

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