One of a Kind

By Frank O’Shea

REMEMBERINGS. By Sinéad O’Connor. Penguin Random House 2021. 285 pp h/b. $45

I’m certain part of the reason I became a singer was that I couldn’t become a priest, given that I have a vagina and a pair of breasts (however insignificant). Rememberings, P 201

The cover may turn many people off, but that would be a pity. Sinéad O’Connor has the ability to either antagonise or frighten people. Many refer to her performance on the American Saturday Night Live where she tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II. Add to this, her wearing a clerical collar and claiming to have been ordained a priest and some of her statements about the Catholic church. Mind you, the biggest population of those most critical of her have been American, i.e. people from a country in which 75 million were upset because Donald Trump couldn’t be their President.

All that aside, readers of this book should leave it occasionally to watch one of her songs on You Tube: Foggy Dew for example with The Chieftains or Molly Malone or Óró Sé Do Bheatha Abhaile. And if you happen to have access to the film Michael Collins, listen to her rendition of (S)he Moved Through the Fair as the camera focuses on the dead body of the Cork man. This hoary cynic challenges you to listen through any of those with dry eyes.

In August 2015, Sinéad O’Connor had ‘an open-surgery radical hysterectomy in Ireland followed by a total breakdown.’ The result is that she lost most of her memory, so that there is a break in the story between 1992 and 2015. She had written most of the book before 2015, but the story effectively stops in 1992, post the SNL incident. So we do not read of her ordination to the Catholic priesthood or her subsequent reversion (her word) to Islam.

What she does give us is an account of her ‘treatment’ in America for her mental problems. This, God help the poor woman, involved Dr Phil. She is merely angry about how she was treated; the rest of us would be on the barricades after reading about it.

Earlier in the book, there is a long chapter in which she describes her capture by Prince, something that she survived by following the advice her father gave her when she was a child in Crumlin about how to get herself out of Dublin danger. There are a few short chapters in which she describes her many albums and the origin of the songs on them, but unless you are a committed fan of Sinéad the singer, you can gloss over those.

Sinéad O’Connor is the kind of street kid that the whole world, except America, wants to take in and put in the guest room, feed up with porridge and potatoes to try to put some weight on those bones. Except that she is no longer a street kid, she is a fifty-four year old grandmother of two. On Good Morning Britain, she wore a hijab as she sang Nothing Compares 2 U and was then part of a 20-minute interview in which she was coherent, sharp, bright and smiling.

In her life, the lovely Sinéad has thrown out all the ‘How To’ books and been her own woman, and the world has not forgiven her. Elsewhere in this month’s Tintean, you can read reviews of four novels by Irish women, but this book has to be given its own page. It is well written, but that is not the point: the point is that it tells the story of an extraordinary woman, a survivor in a world of men and money.

Somewhere in the archives of this publication you will find a review of the 2014 book Growing Up So High, written by Sinead’s father Seán. In our August 2019 edition, you can read a review of John Waters’ book Give Us Back the Bad Roads; he is the father of Róisín, the second of her four children by different fathers. And if you visit my bookshelves, you will find half a shelf of books written by her older brother Joseph, classics all (she nominates Redemption Falls as his best, a view with which this reviewer agrees). Excellent books, without exception, but this one is different: by turns angry and sad, angry and joyful, it is the story of a survivor, the kind that stays in your mind long after you have put it back and then taken it down to read again.

Frank O’Shea is a member of the editorial collective of Tintean.