Recommended Readings

Writers who have impacted my understanding about Ireland and being Irish

EDNA O’BRIEN

I vividly remember in 1967 as an excited teenager, pushing my way through the hotel crowd in Limerick with my schoolmate Brian Nolan to get a closer glimpse at this scandalous woman. I’d told my parents I was going to meet the lads for a strategy talk on rugby. My mother would never have allowed me to be exposed to the danger represented by a woman whose first published novel, The Country Girls, had been quite rightly banned and burned. It was considered scandalous she was being allowed within the walls of a scared city that proudly boasted the largest Arch Confraternity in the world!

Edna was as alluring and bewitching then as she was forty-five years later when I interviewed her for my TV show in San Francisco.

Earlier on, I was passing by when her American publicist told her the interview was for TV. “I hate fucking TV interviews.” This was hardly the response I’d hoped for but soon she was roaring with rich laughter when I told her of my excitement seeing her then and now. There is usually only disappointment when meeting celebrities. Generally they are a self-indulgent, boring lot, but Edna O’Brian was, and is, as fascinating as her literary work.

Philip Roth described her as “the most gifted woman now writing in English.” In her eighties, she still writes prolifically and superbly. Her work often revolves around women’s issues, their problems in relating to men and to society in general. Her first novel, The Country Girls, for the first time opened the dark door on sexual matters and social issues in repressive post World War 11 Ireland. I grew up in that ugly time and writer’s such as O’Brien exposed the hypocrisy and silent violence prevalent in Ireland.

I’d recommend you begin with The Country Girls. After that, there is a treasure chest of her life time work to enjoy at whatever pace suits you.