Friday, March 26, 2010

Don't You Love It When You Discover a New Writer?

This past St. Patrick's Day, I sought out the Irish writers in my library. C.S. Lewis. James Joyce. William Butler Yeats. Frank McCourt.

Alas, where were the Irish women of my collection? Painfully absent. That is, until now.

I recently discovered Edna O’Brien.

Her first novel, The Country Girls, is a story centering around Kate and Baba, two childhood friends whose lives go on divergent paths in search of happiness and fulfillment in the 1950s. First published in 1963, this novel and O’Brien’s next five works were banned in her homeland for their depiction of sex in the lives of her characters, and were often criticized for her portrayal of females as victims of their own lives. Only after several decades have Irish literary critics come to an appreciation for her talents and contributions and the ways in which she has laid bare all the stages of a woman’s life – from girlhood to conflicting love affairs.

What resonates with me is how some readers have expressed shock at the copyright date of O’Brien’s works, in disbelief that her ideas were written four decades ago.

Born in 1930, O’Brien was raised in an Irish convent in 1950s Ireland. Her works center largely on the private yearnings of women and their relationships with men and the repressive society in which they lived.

I hope you’ll join me in adding O’Brien’s writings to your list of must-reads. Or if you have read her novels, let me know your thoughts.

Here are a few striking quotes from O’Brien.

"Writing is like carrying around a fetus."

“When anyone asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Mained, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious.”

“Inebriations of love, shadows of love, fantasies of love, but never yet the one true love.”

“I am obsessive, also I am industrious. Besides, the time when you are the most alive and most aware is in childhood and one is trying to recapture that heightened awareness.”


What writers have YOU discovered recently?

(And if this Irish reading gets you a wee bit hungry, try making this Irish Soda Bread. Yum!)

K. Harrington
author, Janeology


  1. I am very excited! Edna will be on the top of my list now. I've actually been going through a real dry spell with books. I usually read 1-2 a week but recently I've had about 8 or 9 books I couldn't get through. I'm glad to have a recommendation.

  2. Jenna,

    I hope you enjoy her writing. I love getting recommendations too!


  3. I LOVE Edna O’Brien. My favorite is LIGHT IN EVENING, but THE LONELY GIRLS and GIRLS IN THEIR MARRIED BLISS (in order) are also good. It’s funny, I just finished listening to Roddy Doyle’s PAULA SPENCER (follow up to THE WOMAN WHO WALKED INTO DOORS). It was amazing—perhaps made more special by the fantastic reader. It’s the Irish accent that does it. But his most acclaimed work is PADDY CLARKE, HA HA HA which won the Booker Prize. Two of my favorite Irish writers, though, are Maeve Binchy and Marian Keyes. Not as literary, but always great.

  4. I love anything Irish or Scottish or vaguely resembling Celtic!

    Tana French's IN THE WOODS and THE LIKENESS are excellent, though highly detailed and you must take your time reading them in order to catch everything. I couldn't read a book by her more than occasionally because they make my brain hurt. :)


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