Friday, 19 July 2013

Country Girl: Edna O'Brien

Country Girl

by Edna O'Brien


Published by Faber and Faber

I was lucky enough to be sitting near to Edna O'Brien in the Green Room at a recent literature festival and she was holding the whole room spellbound with an anecdote about Philip Roth. She's a natural raconteur - the gift of the Irish, some would say.

I've always loved her writing - her first book The Country Girls (Country Girls Trilogy 1) was part of my growing up. But I haven't read anything of hers for some years. So this autobiography intrigued me. I found the first part of it gripping and saddening - the cruelty and emotional manipulation of young people in the name of religion makes me very angry. Her mother was a martyr and her father was an alcoholic. Between them and the nuns she grew up insecure and ill-equipped for life in the real world.

An early, disastrous marriage to a control freak who was also an author almost destroyed her. When she wrote her first novel and it was a runaway success, her marriage ended. 'You can write, and I will never forgive you,' he told her after he had read her book. She had to fight a three year court battle to get her children back.

But after the intensity of these first chapters, the narrative slips away into reminiscence. Memories go backwards and forwards in time and the reader is left looking for connections. There are some wonderful anecdotes - seductions by film stars, Princess Margaret dropping in for parties, a close friendship with Jackie Onassis - but it lacks a structure. I loved the writing - she is as lyrical as ever and I can hear her voice as I read the prose.

A flawed book, but she's always worth listening to.  One of the twentieth century's iconic writers.

Country Girl
Edna O'Brien

No comments:

Post a Comment