From ghostly presence to haunting absence Photography in Hugo Hamilton's The Speckled People and Dermot Bloger's A Second Life

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Helen Penet


This chapter studies the haunting nature of photography. In Hugo Hamilton’s memoir, the photograph of the narrator’s grandfather, the Sailor in the Wardrobe, provides the indisputable proof of the participation of Irish people in the British navy, to the horror of the narrator’s father. Despite the truth value attached to it, the photograph is still, as are all photographs, a representation, and, therefore, ghostly. It is deliberately hidden, and its concealment haunts the narrator all the more. The narrator of Dermot Bolger’s novel, A Second Life, is haunted by a photograph which was never taken – that of his birth mother, deliberately excluded, as were so many other women in 20th-century Ireland, after falling pregnant out of wedlock. After a car accident Sean Blake finds himself compelled to investigate his birth mother, for whom no photographic proof seems to exist. Returning to the convent where he believes his mother was held, he photographs the little remaining proof of the lives of the women and babies who passed through this place. The two narrators are haunted, one by a photograph which refuses to be forgotten, the other by a photographic blank which can only be prevented from haunting if it is remembered.

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How to Cite
Penet, H. (2021). From ghostly presence to haunting absence: Photography in Hugo Hamilton’s The Speckled People and Dermot Bloger’s A Second Life. Imaginaires, (23), 20-29.