Karl Miller

  • Country Girl: A Memoir by Edna O’Brien
    Faber, 339 pp, £20.00, September 2012, ISBN 978 0 571 26943 3

‘They ran that woman out of County Clare,’ said one of the plain people of the West of Ireland, following the notoriety caused by Edna O’Brien’s fine first novel, The Country Girls, published in 1960. The notoriety was echoed in England: the last of England’s eminent Edwardian novelists, L.P. Hartley, described the novel, she has recalled, as ‘the skittish story of two Irish nymphomaniacs’. She was not, in fact, driven from any of Ireland’s counties. She would have left anyway, even if her native land had become less hot for her, with its jeers and holy sighs, and restaurant shouts from literati: ‘Sleeping with Provos!’ Edna O’Brien is of stern stuff. The ‘questionable’ motto of the O’Briens, as she reports it, ‘Might before right’, doesn’t entirely fail to fit her. She can seem, and sound, vulnerable, but is also mighty. Edna the Brave, like a figure from Ossian. The holy ones did not drive her out. Nor did they stop her from being, in her own fashion, holy herself. She left for Dublin and then, in 1958, for London, with later descents on New York.

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