Country Girl by Edna O’Brien (2012)
Edna O’Brien is an Irish author, born in 1930. Her first book, the Country Girls (1960), was banned in Ireland as it sparked a lot of controversy because it describes the sexual tensions between girls in Catholic schools and the sexual relationship between non-married couples. In her memoir she gives glimpses of a life which started in the poor Irish countryside to dinner parties with the rich and famous in London and New York.
the Country Girls trilogy is based on her own experiences; a childhood in a strict religious home, crushing on the nuns in the convent she was educated in and running off with a married man. I read the trilogy last summer, and I’m glad I did before I read the memoir, and it is interesting to compare the fiction to the reality. I really enjoyed the reality; she does a marvellous job describing the scene when her family comes looking for her and the fight which followed. She eventually marries the man, Ernest Gébler, and they have two children together. But the marriage doesn’t last, and the battle between the couple, and especially over the custody of the children, is heartbreaking.
She also describes the amazing parties with famous people and drugs in the 60s and 70s. There is plenty of name-dropping and anecdotes. My favourites were when her children was sung to sleep by Paul McCartney and when she was kissed by Jude Law (I love that she describes him as an Adonis). But she is at her best when she describes her surroundings; the houses and cities she has lived it. She also gives a crash-course in the Troubles in Northern-Ireland, and I think it is the best chapter in the book.
Although it was fascinating to read about her life, I felt that she was distant; I never really got to know Edna, but got a good look at the world through her eyes. She is good at describing other people and the books and writers which influence her. She doesn’t say much about her own work, except mention it in relation to other people. I enjoyed the memoir, and I will definitely keep reading her books. And so should you!
I bought the memoir when it was published last year, and I’ve been meaning to read it right away (as I always do, the problem is that I buy too many books). Ingalill’s biographies challenge gave me the push I needed to finally do so.