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Memoirs are made of this

I DREAM ALONE By Gabriel Walsh Poolbeg (2013) €14.99 ****

IN Maggie's Breakfast, Gabriel Walsh recounts the story of his life as one of 10 children in an indigent Dublin family. A job as a breakfast boy in the Shelbourne Hotel brings him to the notice of retired opera star Margaret Burke Sheridan, who takes it into her head to change Gabriel's life.

I Dream Alone is the sequel, and brings us, with him, to Tarrytown in Westchester County, New York, to a lifestyle that is light years away from his impoverished Irish existence.


It's easy to think that a big life change, especially one that revolves around an upgrade in material things, is going to make everything better.

Young Gabriel soon finds that he's neither fish nor fowl, neither a servant like housekeeper Pat, who would surely have been a gold medallist in the Gossip Olympics, nor at home with the privileged folks, the like of Maggie's benefactors, Ruth and Emerson Axe.

He also finds that the opportunities he's been given don't come without strings attached, and despite being a young man in Fifties America – when dreams coming true were the order of the day – the struggles to allow himself those dreams are formidable.

It's a battle between arts and commerce, and he finds that gratitude can be a double-edged sword. Waters evokes his youthful emotions beautifully, the most devastating of these being his relative isolation in Maggie's Tarrytown manse.

There are many ways to be impoverished, and loneliness is less obvious but as painful as being poor in pocket.

The details of events, the day-to-day recounting of how one thing lead to another, are lucid but lack the flair of the majority of the writing.

Nevertheless, I do want to know what comes next ...

HEY HO: A ROCK AND ROLL FAIRYTALE By Jo Wood Harper Collins (2013) €16.99 ****

READING Jo's autobiography is just like sitting down and having a good old natter with a friend away over cups of tea. So much so that I just referred to her as 'Jo' without even thinking twice.

This is a straightforward and very honest accounting of her life and times as a rock 'n' roll wife, and drops a few scandalous details as casually as you'd tell someone the time.

It's a bit light on said scandal, and while you've got to give it to Jo for her dignity, one wishes for more saucy stories.

Because we are pals, after all. Right? Oh, no, actually: not.

A NATURAL WOMAN By Carole King Virago (2012) €14.30 **

TAPESTRY appears on almost every list that rates the best albums ever created, and with good reason. It's not only an amazing album, but it also perfectly encapsulates a time in the history of music that was influential and unforgettable.

King not only had that under her belt, but along with first husband Gerry Goffin, she was responsible for over two dozen chart-toppers, including the titular tune for Aretha Franklin. The walk down memory lane is hampered by diversions into other areas of her life that aren't as interesting as her musical life.

BREAK A LEG: A MEMOIR By Peter Sheridan New Island Books (2012) €19.99 ****

THERE is no memoir without a context, be it emotional, material, or social.

In this case, the latter plays a huge part in Sheridan's recounting of his early days in theatre, which coincided nicely with the early days of Project Arts Centre, infused with the politics of the time. There is, nevertheless, a homely feel to the memoir, as Sixties/Seventies Dublin comes alive. Its casual tone is sometimes at odds with its darker threads, but it does successfully convey a love of theatre.

BY MYSELF By Lauren Bacall Random House (1978); available as an ebook for €6.49 *****

THIS is terrific, and not only for the classic Hollywood bits, but also for the growing-up-in-Thirties-New-York bits, and for the warts-and-all bits.

Bogie called her Betty because that was the name she was born with, which just makes me sigh every time I think of it. She was as committed to her relationship as she was to her career, and her voice is so strong that it is as if the woman herself is talking directly into your ear.

It's a delicious feast of classic Hollywood names and anecdotes, and it'll inspire a DVD fest once you're done.