This no-holds barred account of Leland Bardwell's life spans five decades and unveils the shroud of innocence that often clouds our vision of the past. Bardwell confronts her life head on, confessing bygone sins and exorcising old demons. However, despite the hardships of her life, this is far from a misery memoir, as A Restless Life celebrates the artistic, and often times anarchistic life of one of Ireland's hidden, literary treasures.
A young girl returns with her family from India to live in Leixlip, Co Kildare. For Leland Bardwell, like so many of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy, the realities of life in the big house were far more modest and threadbare than appearances portrayed. A distant father and a temperamental mother left the awkward Leland to herself, and she spent much of her childhood disappearing into the countryside, smoking Afton cigarettes with pennies cadged from her father’s pockets.
This itinerant and isolated existence becomes the template for much of her later life. Leland falls madly in love with her father's cousin, a lifelong obsession which derails her quiet solitude. An unplanned pregnancy brings her to a war-torn London, where her son is adopted. Accumulating lovers and children over the years she becomes a teacher in the highlands of Scotland, and a paper-seller on the street corners of Paris, before returning to Dublin. Here, she struggles to combine motherhood with artistic expression, as well as juggle her various affairs (both official and illicit).
Ostracized by her family, her tiny flat on Leeson Street becomes a refuge for writers, artists, eccentrics, and the drunken literary crew of McDaid’s pub. It is in this melee that she first beds and then befriends Patrick Kavanagh, in what is a humorous and affectionate portrait of one of Ireland's best-loved poets. The heartbreak, mayhem, and comedy of those years is told with a raw but poetic honesty that justifies the Irish Times naming her "the doyenne of women poets writing in English." Bardwell's literary career peaks in this searing and raunchy memoir; A Restless Life is the fascinating story of an extraordinary Irish woman.