NPG x14169; Edna O'Brien by Cecil BeatonCOUNTRY GIRLS COVER

EDNA O BRIEN ( born on 15th December 1930)

Edna is the queen of the Irish literary bad girls. And now at 83 her stock has never been higher as she has just become the second winner of the Charleston-Chichester Award for a Lifetime’s Excellence in Short Fiction. She has been a heroine of mine since I first got my teenage paws on a copy of the ‘Country Girls’ and a few weeks later on ‘Girls in Their Married Bliss’. These novels had attained almost mythical status amongst my schoolfriends as the banned status gave them the exotic whiff of contraband. We would thumb through these novels looking forensically for any trace of the explicit sexual content that had irked the censorship board in 1960. We were a little disappointed with the level of indecency and obscenity that had been promised by the banned book status. Our interest had been piqued at the stories of her neighbours in County Clare burning copies because of their licentious content… but it was the eighties now and we were MTV kids.

Edna became famous for giving voice to the feelings and sexual experiences of young women in the repressive theocracy of Ireland at the time. Her amazing talent as a novelist, short-story writer, poet and playwright combined with her beauty and grace and her unmistakeable voice both on and off the page made Edna a star of Sixties London.

To get a true flavour of Edna’s trajectory from country girl to chelsea girl read ‘Country Girl:a Memoir’, which is a gripping read. O’Brien spent ten years signing over her earnings to her husband Ernest Gebler, before fleeing the marriage and losing custody of her two sons for a period. O’Brien recounts taking LSD with RD Laing, hangs out with Sean Connery, has a brief affair with Robert Mitchum, holidays with Gore Vidal and dines with Brando. Edna O’ Brien is our literary Grande Dame, with her talent and charm she put the IT girl in the LITerary Bad Girl.

To listen to her sonorous tones click on the link below:


Last Saturday I attended a book lunch ran by Dubray books, Sarah Webb and Vanessa Fox O’ Loughlin in the fabulous surrounds of the Royal St.George Yacht Club, Dun Laoghaire. Our table at lunch was great fun and Liz Nugent, the author of ‘Unravelling Oliver’ was an amazing hostess. Liz has burst onto the literary scene this year with her riveting psychological thriller which in emotive prose tries to unravel the complexities behind the sociopathic Oliver. Liz’s stories at the lunch were fun and great conversation flowed with the same velocity as the wine. I for one felt a little unravelled the next day but am still basking in the memories of lunch with our new literary star.


Autumn Reading


Now that the last of the summer wine has been quaffed and the first bruised cloud has appeared on the horizon, it’s time to concede the arrival of Autumn, the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. It is always the busiest time of year for the publishing industry, just in time for the Christmas market.  This Autumn sees the publication of new novels from the heavy hitters in both British and Irish publishing. Of all years the harvest this Autumn is particularly bountiful with a succession of serious novels vying for readers attention. Some of my favourite authors have new novels out or just  coming out in the next few days and short of taking a permanent duvet day, I wonder how I will read them all over the next few weeks.


1.  The Dog by Joseph O’Neill – am disappointed that this fine novel didn’t make the Booker shortlist. It’s a great read for any fan of Netherland, again the themes of alienation and dislocation are explored, this time the protagonist has fled the U.S. for the glittering shores of Dubai. It’s an interesting immersion for any reader curious about the soulless civic life of Dubai, the truth behind the facade of this city in the desert sands.

2.  The Zone Of Interest by Martin Amis – Fans of Amis will enjoy his latest offering, his second novel exploring the Holocaust, this time Amis moves among multiple narrators to show the seemingly normal daily lives of those involved in the horror of Auschwitz. With his usual style and élan Amis creates a darkly comedic world peopled by grotesques and allows the reader to glimpse the outline of that which is beyond words.

3.  The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell – More entertainment from Mitchell and like the acclaimed “Cloud Atlas” interweaves large, related narratives, stretching from 1984 to 2043 and brings a variety of characters alive from Holly Sykes to Crispin Hershey, a successful English writer with just a whiff of the Martin Amis about him. Read it and enjoy.

4.  The Children’s Act by Ian McEwan – Read this for a peek inside the mind of Fiona Maye,a high court judge confronting both private and work-related dilemmas; a marriage crisis and a delicate legal situation involving a teenage Jehovah Witness refusing a blood transfusion to treat leukaemia.   What complicates matters is that the boy is no child and is about to turn eighteen. A must read for McEwan fans.

5.  Outline by Rachel Cusk – This novel which was serialised in the Paris Review is a new departure for Cusk. The narrator is a writer, a divorced mother of two boys who goes to Athens to teach a writing course and plunges straight into a very descriptive account of her first class, in which she asks each student to talk about something they noticed en route. Their anecdotes reveal the complexity of the emotional reality of their lives and the novel continues with descriptions of encounters with other people throughout the stay in Athens. There is no major plot development , no political axe to grind. Instead “Outline”, just as the narrator is rejecting a certain way of being in the world, is a new type of fiction reminiscent of the instrospecive brilliance of Virginia Woolf fused with the modern memoiristic canons by Karl Ove Knausgaard and Sheila Heti.

6.  Shark by Will Self – A sort of a sequel to “Umbrella”, fans of Self’s stream of consciousness and modernist style will delight in this novel peopled by a cast several dozen strong. Again a vehicle to show Self’s interest in the psychopathology of everyday life, the work is dense and a must read for any Jungian or Freudian scholars.

7.  Nora Webster by Colm Toibin – Lovers of Brooklyn will love this new novel by Toibin as he returns to Ireland in the late 60’s and follows the trials and triumphs of Nora Webster and her four children in the aftermath of her husband’s sudden death. Character and place take precedence over plot in this quiet and atmospheric novel.

8.   Funny Girl by Nick Hornby – From 1960’s Ireland to 1960’s London Hornby brings us on an adventure with the intrepid Sophie Straw as she transforms from a provincial ingenue to a television starlet where behind the scenes the cast and crew are having the time of their lives.  Due for publication in early November 2014 this latest novel from Hornby is predicted to be a big seller.

9. Us by David Nicholls – I was a huge fan of “One Day” and can only imagine how difficult it was for Nicholls to write the follow up. The publication of “Us” has been eagerly awaited by readers and I have just got my copy today. This novel takes us on a European tour with a mismatched couple. This is a picaresque and poignant tale of a marriage under strain, where the biochemist anti-hero Douglas Petersen undertakes an InterRailing trip across Europe with his wife Connie and teenage son Albie. The holiday becomes Doug’s last chance to win back the affections of his wife and son, a story told with affection and humour by  Nicholls whose skill as a writer helps to engage the reader’s empathy with all the characters. I expect it will be top of the list at all Book Clubs this year.