Enthralled by The Great Edna O’Brien

On Tuesday evening I drove the thirty odd kilometres to the Pavillion Theatre in Dun Laoghaire South Dublin, to see and hear Edna O’Brien interviewed by Sinead Gleeson.
It was my mother who first introduced me to the books of Edna O’Brien. Trust my mother to like something banned and risqué I thought, and promptly forgot about it. However, after my mother died, I was in the library one day and happened to see a range of O’Brien’s books on the shelf. Out of a feeling of nostalgia and remembrance to my mother, I borrowed ‘The Country Girls.’

I read ‘The Country Girls’ and in spite of my expectations I thoroughly enjoyed it. However it was her two books of short stories and her memoir ‘Country Girl,’ which I found to be just the most beautiful prose I had ever read. Her attention to detail astonished me, as well as her lyricism. Every word seemed to sing on the page. I was hooked.

To have the opportunity to hear her speak was one I was not going to miss. In her 85th year, she has just completed another novel called ‘The Little Red Chairs’ – I bought a signed copy at the event (she signed the books beforehand.) I will be reading that for pure pleasure over Christmas.

From the moment she began to speak, I was completely captivated and hung on her every word. She still retains a soft Irish brogue and has a beautiful voice. She talked about so many wonderful things, I just so wish I could have recorded it. She discussed the power of literature but said that the words come above and beyond anything else when she writes. She talked about how she adores stimulating conversation, and how, when she recently met the writer Teju Cole (who she admires) and they were having a very stimulating conversation, and after three hours he said: ‘I think I’ll have a gin!’ What I gleaned from this story was that O’Brien was only warming up and could have gone on talking for hours.

She is incredibly smart, witty, and not afraid of sharing her honest opinions on many subjects. What surprised me is how hurt she still feels about the criticism she received from Ireland, not just for ‘The Country Girls,’ which she said was over hyped and ridiculous, but for other books she wrote. She still carries that pain and that made me sad. I wanted to say, ‘forget the begrudgers Edna, the majority of us adore you!’ She has of course been honoured in Ireland, and you could also tell that means a lot to her.

She talked about her love of Joyce and how she agrees with Samuel Beckett, who said of Joyce: ‘He makes the words do the hard work.”
Her love of Joyce is abundantly clear. She credits him with a lot of her inspiration.

She talked of many interesting people she has known, with never a malicious word said about anyone. There was not a sound in the auditorium while she spoke. She received a well-deserved standing ovation. I could have listened to her all night. She is an inspiration and Ireland should be very proud of her.


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