Having never read any of Dervla Murphy's writing before picking up her autobiography at the library last week, I only knew that she wrote travel stories about cycling in far-flung parts of the earth.
I were to have read about her epic cycling journeys before reading this
autobiography first, I suspect I would have spent a lot of time
wondering: "How on earth does such a woman exist! And what kind of a
life brought her to the point of contemplating this lifestyle?" I
wonder if the writing of this autobiography was in part an answer to
such questions she no doubt received after becoming well known as "the
mad Irishwoman on the bicycle."
Reading Wheels Within Wheels
is like being transported to the Irish countryside in the 1930s and
1940s; Dervla Murphy is capable of so vividly rendering people and place
I feel as though I know what she describes. I could easily picture
all the scenes she recounts, although she follows the advice given to
every learner of writing: "Show, don't tell." and she does this with
Born in 1931, in Lismore, Ireland, the only
child of her librarian father and invalid mother. She depicts a
childhood of permissive rambling and cycling around the countryside.
Dervla Murphy paints portraits of some of the most significant figures
in her childhood - her grandparents, various servants, teachers, and
friendships. Her ability to self-educate especially when her opportunity
for schooling was taken away is astounding, and yet she never seems to
fall into the trap of either bravado or self-pity. Her writing style is
smooth, apparently effortless, and eminently readable.
she was removed from school and retained at home as her mother's carer
she reveals a disintegration in her lifestyle both shocking and terrible
to read. She suffers greatly, but tells her story with an unvarnished
honesty we have come to trust. When both of her parents are gone and
she has gained her freedom she emerges from her seclusion as a butterfly
from a cocoon. She struggles to suppress her socially inappropriate
exuberance at the death of her mother.
Dervla Murphy is
a deft storyteller, an honest writer, a kindred spirit and a mentor. I
will be searching out her other writing as soon as possible.