Book Review: Longing for Elsewhere by Renee Gibbons

19 Dec

Book Review: Longing for Elsewhere by Renee Gibbons
San Francisco, 2011. 250 pp., $16.95, pbk.

Renee Gibbons has three photographs  in this page-turning paperback.  One is on the cover superimposed on a map of Dublin after Gibbons received her First Communion. The third in on the back where her handsome face is framed by fly-away white hair.  Facing the title page, the third dating from Paris in 1963, shows Gibbons as a young woman of compelling beauty, clarifying  this  memoir’s subtitle: “My Irish Voyage Through Hunger History and High Times.”

The Roman Catholic emphasis on children bearing for women, prohibiting abortion is fairly common knowledge, as is the devastating effect of bearing  children out of wedlock. This was exacerbated by brief liaisons in World War I.  The effect of doctrine and cultural reality is a constant undercurrent  in Gibbons’ random telling of her parents’ story and the effect it made on family life and survival.

So also is the popular notion of the Irish as alcoholics, inebriation shared in cold climates with long winter nights.  In Gibbons’ account of her father’s fondness for Guinness to the exclusion of food for the family makes one wonder how she was able to grow into the vibrant adulthood related in these highly readable pages.

What fascinates me was her capacity to survive with such tenacity and a sense of basic self-worth, although Gibbons states her present life also has included  years of psycho-therapy.  That she was able to travel and plumb her psyche for personal well-being makes for interesting juxtapositions.

From various journeys Gibbons recounts a particularly memorable incident or individual.  She also informs us of a sexual encounter with a friend’s father alienating her from the friend; of bearing a son alone in England and never seeing him, giving him up for adoption at birth; of being raped instead of consoled by a male friend after one of her girl friends died along with the baby in childbirth.

Gibbons also relates episodes in her San Francisco history, living here because
she met and married a longshoreman after consciously making the decision to
bear and raise a daughter on her own.  She has managed her “longing for elsewhere” while in a happy marriage; it includes feeding the homeless in Washington Square on Thanksgiving and organizing celebrations of Irish men of letters – James Joyce and Sean O’Casey in particular. It is Gibbons’ melange or pot au feu of such disparate elements and experiences which makes these modest pages so readable.  It is a tale of triumph, pluck, ingenuity and love, a special bravo in reading.


One Response to “Book Review: Longing for Elsewhere by Renee Gibbons”

  1. Retha Degolier January 3, 2012 at 4:51 am #

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