Sinead Gleeson’s newly published book Constellations makes her the latest in a raft of brilliant Irish essayists, each distinct, using the medium artfully to tell stories about their lives and the world we live in
In my day job as a publisher at Tramp Press, we’ve published collections by Emilie Pine and Ian Maleney, very different from each other, but united in their ability to seek occasionally startling truth through exploratory, patient, and often beautiful long-form prose.
They’re all books that reckon with the big subjects of life and death, using intimate thoughts and experiences as a roadmap. In the best, most thought-proving collections, readers come out the end with a new view.
Gleeson’s book deals with the body – her own. It opens with a quote from Helene Cixous, “Censor the body and you censor breath and speech at the same time. Write yourself. Your body must be heard.”
In a series of related essays, she muses what it is like to be a woman in Ireland receiving healthcare: it’s the story of “a life in a body”.
There are pain and bones, birth and blood. She describes how, on a school trip to Lourdes, she felt ashamed of the wheelchair required to relieve her monoarticular arthritis amidst the vertiginous hills, and began to question her faith. She details the needles, cuts, and pain required to carry a child and give birth. Each gynaecologist who attended to her was male, and there were many occasions where her pain was not believed or taken seriously.
An experience having an extensive body cast removed left her with jagged scars up each side.
Gleeson writes with clarity. It’s an artful, investigative book. And, like the best essays, it makes this reader reflect upon my own life, better understanding some moments where my own experiences overlap.
It reminds me what I’ve learned from overhearing older women talk about pregnancy, detailing bodily experiences of blood and birth that have not always been reflected with candour in print.
It reminds me of stumbling upon pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder online, and not from the doctors who’d sent me away with vitamins and suggestions of exercise. What a relief it was to click the pieces into place.
Many experiences we have through our bodies are ancient, but we’re only beginning to recognise them in print.
Constellations is a book that illuminates and connects the dots.