So you can read my books

Monday, December 20, 2010


Edna O'Brien was born on the Ides of December.

Her landmark novel, THE COUNTRY GIRLS, turns fifty this year. And most reading this will frown, "Edna who?"

But not me. I am the Champion of Lost Voices, Lost Causes ... the ones that are the most important to hold close to your heart.

"For her style and her unrivalled insight into relationships — among contemporary writers," says the New York Times, "she is the major cardiologist of broken hearts.

O’Brien has won virtually every literary prize Ireland has to offer, but THE COUNTRY GIRLS and other earlier books provoked outrage at home when they first appeared.

The two, opposite sisters in THE COUNTRY GIRLS

reflect O’Brien’s ambivalent relationship with her upbringing in rural County Clare.

In a 2008 newspaper article she recalls that she wrote the book while living in London in three weeks

and in an outpouring of love-hate for “the country I had left and wanted to leave, but now grieved for, with an inexplicable sorrow”:

"Images of roads and ditches and bog and bog lake assailed me,

as did the voice of my mother, tender or chastising, and even her cough when she lay down at night.

In the fields outside, the lonely plaint of cattle, and dogs barking, as I believed, at ghosts. All the people I had encountered kept re-emerging with a vividness:

Hickey our workman, whom I loved;

my father, whom I feared;

a travelling salesman by the name of Sacco, who sold spectacles.

There was no library in the local town and hence no books.

One copy of Rebecca had reached us and pages were passed from one woman to the next, though alas not consecutively."

The novel’s irreligion, sexual frankness and social criticism

provoked some in Ireland to book-burnings and hate mail,

and even O’Brien’s mother censored it, in country fashion.

“She erased with black ink any of the offending words,” recalls the author, “and the book was put in a bolster case and placed in an outhouse.”

The reception given THE COUNTRY GIRLS and other novels is reflected in O’Brien’s 1976 memoir, MOTHER IRELAND,

which is a double tale told in a double tone.

The book interweaves the author’s recollections of her youth and exodus with her profile of the country and its people,

and though much of it is fond and empathetic, it has this quotation from Samuel Beckett’s Malone Dies as its final note :

"Let us say before I go any further, that I forgive nobody.

I wish them all an atrocious life in the fires of icy hell and in the execrable generations to come."

Edna's voice whispers in haunting and lovely images, evoking a yearning within all of us to have the best of home again, though mourning the wounds of our childhood.
Speaking of childhood, this tune was sung to me by my own mother as I lay coughing in the darkness as the winter snows cut off the power and my breath with double pneumonia. Some nights I can hear her still.


  1. Hi Roland - In the fields outside, the lonely plaint of cattle, and dogs barking, as I believed, at ghosts.

    I love that sentence. I'm sorry to say I haven't heard of her. Thanks for shing a brilliant and soulful light on her and her work. =D

  2. What a beautiful entry! At times your talent just floors me. I love your eloquent, old school way of writing. We need more of that in literature today!

  3. RaShelle : That particular sentence is a favorite of mine of her prose. A hardcover copy of her MOTHER IRELAND costs only a penny at Amazon. How cool is that?

    Heather : I received a rejection today. No, not from my full. Still, it stung. So your praise of my prose was a healing balm tonight. Thanks.

  4. I don't know of O'Brien, but I'll look for her work. I'm intrigued by what you've written here. She sounds like my kind of author!

    Happy Holidays, Roland!!

  5. I am an avid fan of Edna O'Brien. I did not experience the censorship in my family that Edna did. Though I have plenty of stories involving the nuns from the convent school I attended. My Grandmother loved books and both her home and ours were filled with them and my Grandfather owned the local newspaper. I love Edna's prose and her spunk to buck the system of hypocrisy that apparently existed in the rural Ireland she grew up in. Not an easy thing to do!

  6. Hi Roland .. I knew of Edna O'Brien .. but little else - so this was interesting to read. I see she's still alive .. and must sometime get hold of a copy of the Country Girls book to read ..

    Thanks and I loved the song your mother used to sing to you .. that's a good video clip .. Happy Christmas and have peaceful time .. Hilary

  7. Nicole : I think you'll like her. Hers was a brave, bold voice for women and holding fast to your dreams when it was hard to stand tall and speak. Happy Holidays to you, too!

    Ann : I've had my own childhood encounters with nuns, too. One was my protector when I first arrived as a lonely part-Lakota child in the Cajun South. The other came the next year and the other city over who always looked at me as if it was pity that the Church had banned burning at the stake!

    I'm glad I brought a favorite author to mind for you. Merry Christmas, Ann!

    Hilary : Yes, Edna is still alive and still feisty, getting a famous British actress to do one of her plays just recently. I'm glad you liked Mother's song. I still hear the words in my head as I go to sleep. May the magic of Christmas bring lovely dreams to pass for you this season!

  8. "I am the Champion of Lost Voices, Lost Causes ... the ones that are the most important to hold close to your heart."

    I can't imagine a more accurate statement from or about you Roland. It is one of the special things that bring me back here time and time again.

    And now I believe COUNTRY GIRLS will be placed very high on my TBR list. You've painted a passionate picture of the author and the book.


  9. Donna : I think you'll enjoy it as a historical read if for nothing else since it catches the spirit of the times of young Edna. She has the lyrical Irish magic to her prose, too. Thanks for reading all my latest posts.

    More thanks for thinking my blog home a nice place to visit and chat. Same here. Roland