An Ark of Light is a superbly written and beautifully moving book that brought this reader to tears. Not tears of sorrow or even joy, but tears of undeniable appreciation for such a cherished depiction of human character.
Eva Fitzgerald is a fictional character based on the real-life Sheila Fitzgerald (nee Goold Verschoyle) whose story the author first explored in his novel, The Road to Paradise Pier. which was first published in 2002.
This belated sequel of sorts follows Eva through the latter half of her life, as she leaves an unhappy marriage departing from her dilapidated country manor in County Mayo. An enduring optimist and idealist, Eva easily forsakes the relative comforts of her existence in her bid for adventure and self-discovery.
The year is 1948 and Eva has always longed to travel the world, the promise she made to her mother on her wedding day always ringing in her ears: "There is only one thing you must never lose sight of, no matter what life throws at you, promise me that you will strive tooth and nail for the right to be happy"
Eva worries constantly about her bubbly, gay son Francis, who is always falling in and out of love at a time when homosexuality mostly remained hidden. Eva's younger daughter Hazel is more headstrong and direct than Francis. She lacks the spiritual affinity which bind mother and brother, yet she shares a deep connection with them both which is soundly based on love.
Eva is in her late 40s when she begins her nomadic journey of self-discovery. Although on many occasions her quest seems to fall short, she is determined to find the light or lesson in each chapter in her life. Things are hard for her and where many other people would give in, Eva perseveres with a quiet and gentle determination. Her own life may not follow the path she envisioned or hoped for, but it is nonetheless inspiring to those around her, and those that read of her.
She becomes an angel for like-minded travelers, painters, writers and activists, often discovering a sense of kinship with those much younger than her. Whether living in Morocco, London, or a caravan in a field, Eva is determined to make a difference in the world. She signs petitions, attends marches, organises informal art classes, sends letters of encouragement to struggling writers. This feisty individual leaves a mark on the minds and souls of those lucky enough to encounter her, although she doesn’t recognise this at the time.
Eva is loving and caring but she is also naive, and at times too soft. She experiences heartbreak and makes mistakes. As I read, I feel like I am watching a friend slip away, as she nears the end of her life.
Eva lives a stripped back life, free of material trappings. Friendship and conversation are what drive her - a home, clothes or even often food all come second. She prefers to go without heat to buy a book of philosophy, or go hungry in order to feed stray animals.
Bolger does a fabulous job of portraying this fictional version of a dear friend who never got the chance to write her own memoirs. In the postscript, the author thanks her for the gift of friendship and hopes that he has in some way captured her spirit for readers. If his depiction of her essence and character is even but a mere shadow of the woman herself, I would say it is still one of extreme heartfelt appreciation, where the love and respect is honest and tangible.
I would have loved to have been lucky enough to meet this woman, and thanks to Dermot Bolger I feel in some small way that I have. Eva has most certainly left her mark on me, and I am sure mine will not be the only readers’ heart to be touched.