The right to be forgotten

Cork author Gráinne Murphy always knew her path would lead her back to Belgooly – back to her home.

It was there in 2018 that she began writing her second novel ‘The Ghostlights’, in which she explores the very concept of home, what it means and how it relates to things like identity and memory.

Having spent five years living in Brussels following the tragic death of their daughter just before her first birthday, Gráinne, her husband and her children returned to Cork in 2016.

“We were all up in a heap and I really felt that life at home didn't fit anymore. Looking back on it, I definitely ran away but it was what we needed at the time. Belgooly was always going to be home again – our daughter is buried here,” says Gráinne.

Set in a small village in rural Ireland, Gráinne’s new novel tells the story of twin sisters Liv and Marianne, and their mother Ethel, each of whom is searching for her own place in the world.

Their small community is rocked when the body of a mysterious stranger is found in the nearby lake having checked into a local B&B four days earlier under a false name.

The book is a character-driven exploration of identity, family and memory, themes that had stuck with Gráinne ever since the famous Peter Bergmann case in 2009.

An unsolved mystery to this day, the Peter Bergmann case relates to the death of an unidentified man in Sligo whose body was found on a beach four days after checking into the Sligo City Hotel.

“We were all fascinated by the Peter Bergmann case when it happened. What would drive a person to go to a place they don't know and go to such lengths to be forgotten?” says Gráinne.

A few years later, Gráinne, who works as a self-employed language editor specialising in human rights and environmental issues, was working on reports surrounding the ‘Google versus Spain – The Right To Be Forgotten’ case in 2015 in which the European Court of Justice ruled that citizens have a right to request that commercial search firms, such as Google, should remove links to private information when asked.

Gráinne says the case really got her thinking about how a concept like the right to being forgotten might fit within a rural Irish setting.

“It would be unimaginable to my grandparents' generation, particularly in rural places and small villages where people are more interested in being remembered and it's more important to remember, 'Who's that person? Who's their family? Where are they from?'.

“So I thought if I had an older person who's not from the area who would come and who would do their best not to be identified in this little village where people are already concerned with identity and remembering, it would upend these three women, each of whom is in a particular point in her life,” explains Gráinne.

The novel follows her 2020 release ‘Where the Edge Is’ which she had originally not written for publication, but rather as an outlet following her daughter’s death.

“I was trying to make my peace with things and work things out in my head and fiction just seemed the best way for me to do that in a safe space.”

Gráinne’s new novel will be released on 1 September and, although she says the build-up to a launch can be a little scary, she feels better equipped the second time around.

“Everything feels like a really huge step until you do it; like finishing a book feels like a huge step and then you finish it and it's done. Then getting a publishing deal feels like a huge step and then you get it and straight away the next thing becomes the big thing. It's quite manageable emotionally,” says Gráinne.

‘The Ghostlights’ has already received widespread praise from well-known literary figures, with Canadian fiction writer Damhnait Monaghan saying: “Murphy skilfully weaves a very Irish dark humour through this unflinching look at the choices we make and their impact on those around us.”

Asked what sets Irish humour and story-telling apart from other parts of the world, Gráinne says it could be down to a lot of things including, of course, the weather.

“I think weather has a lot to do with it and the landscape; it's softer and a little less certain here. Take American novels that are set in really sunny places – I find there is a real hardness to bright sun and a bright blue sky. There's a hardness that we don't have in Irish writing.

“I love being really far west in Ireland when it's foggy or misty; you could nearly pick a story out of the air.”

Cork novelist Gráinne Murphy’s second novel 'The Ghostlights' is published by Legend Press on 1 September. See for more details.