An Irish story is rarely a happy story – “Country Girls” by Edna O’Brien

October 7, 2011 at 9:34 pm Leave a comment

Three country girls

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Country Girlsby Edna O’Brien, Published in 1960. 

I should start by saying I have a lot of posts this week because I am laid up, so I have been able to read a lot while recovering. I wish I always had this much time to read but without the laid up part.

On to the review: I would suggest this book. I think it is well written and the story is engaging.  But I am still trying to understand what O’Brien was doing with all of the characters.

Caithleen is fourteen, living in an Irish farmhouse with her brow-beaten mother and her drunken abusive father.  When her mother dies suddenly she is sent to live with the Brennans – including their daughter Baba, who becomes Caithleen’s friend but also Caithleen’s harshest critic and is terribly cruel in most instances.  Frankly, I did not like her. Together, Caithleen and Baba go to school at a convent, get expelled and then wind up in Dublin, in a low rent boarding house.

Throughout these adventures, Caithleen also finds herself in love with Mr. Gentleman, the middle-aged, married Frenchman who lives down the lane.  It becomes clear quickly that Mr. Gentleman is also very interested in Caithleen and he takes her on long car rides stealing kisses while acting sullen and romantically withdrawn (this part is was really bothersome for me because he is really just an elegantly dressed child molester).

Through-out the story, Caithleen grows from a naive girl into a fumbling young adult who can’t seem to avoid being taken advantage of by both Baba and Mr. Gentleman. She is continually overwhemled with memories of home and her mother – while trying to be more adult than she is ready to be.  It is heartbreaking.

This is the first novel in the trilogy written by O’Brien – I do plan on reading the other two novels and this may help me understand some of the character development in this book.  O’Brien has been compared to her contemporary Irish writer William Trevor but her style is all her own.  O’Brien is able to make the reader feel the discomfort and the awkwardness of being a teenage girl – that precarious period where there is a longing for childhood comfort but a need to act the part of the adult so peers won’t see weakness. It is a painful process to watch but it makes for a good story.

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Entry filed under: October 2011 reads. Tags: , , .

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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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