As soon as I picked up Constellations, I somewhat knew that I would enjoy this personal account. A memoir from an Irish writer that focuses on the complex nature of her anatomy with emotion, allegory, metaphor and broadly well-flowing prose, what’s not to get swept away by? Reminiscent of Maggie O’Farrell’s I Am, I Am, I Am, there is a personal intimacy present in this book, which makes you feel invested from the offset. Her essays are trying to project her perspective on art, illness, writing, ghosts and grief, much of what makes up living, adding depths of relativity to her writing, which means most should be grabbed by this title.
With this title the marketing makes it beguiling. We are lured in by this premise that Gleeson regards all the metal in her body as “artificial stars, glistening beneath the skin, a constellation of old and new metal.” She considers her life as she goes through the misfunctions, pregnancy, motherhood, with a clear feminist slant. One of her most interesting and damning of essays is that which looks at abortion and pro-life groups, as the campaign to make abortion legal in Ireland becomes real. So that is another feature in this title, Ireland, as the politics and religion affects so many of the topics she broaches, so many that are connected to being a woman in the country. She touches upon the works of other feminist writers, Olivia Laing, and Maggie Nelson to name a couple, and using her warmth brings her reader on what seems a sequential journey that is both affecting and provocative.
Her comparisons to Frida Kahlo and her suffering are vivid, as she too is wracked by pain. As a child Gleeson had arthritis that weakened her hip bones; in the end she had to have a hip replacement after several things going not-to-plan. This is key to the story and obviously, other topics arise as does in life including the accidental death of an ex-boyfriend, which plagues on her mind and a family understanding of ghosts.
With this book Gleeson has exceptionally turned pain into art. Poetic and onomatopoeic, her prose is refreshing, “Trolleytrundle and sirenblare. I’m on lates this week. Whirr-blink of machines. Food trays rattling. Nuuurrsse! The three notes the blood pressure pump sings on completion. Pinging of patient call bells. Squeak of sensible footwear.” She positively glows throughout this read, surprised at what the body can endure but acknowledging the visible and invisible marks that time in hospital can illicit. Constellations, albeit not offering all that the marketing suggests in some ways is so much more, it’s a timely and political text on the female body, when it comes to laws made, and the more obvious physical boundaries. An imperative read.
Constellations is available now, published by Picador.