Seventy-eight years in the making, Country Girl is Edna O’Brien’s very open and honest memoir. O’Brien writes her memoir in tantalizing vignettes. Through her words, the reader drifts along on O’Brien’s train of thought. The stories flit through time; at one moment these tales are the reflection of a child then we suddenly jump into the memories of an adult, yet always the streams of thought flow together weaving an intricate path of remembrance.
Country Girl is the memories of a writer scandalized in her hometown after the publication of her first novel, Country Girls, in 1960. Despite negative opposition, Edna O’Brien continued to write and was years later honored by the same parish that burned her first book almost two decades before. O’Brien offers with great clarity her childhood upbringing in County Clare, Ireland. Her mother admonishes her for “the prodigal blood of the O’Brien’s” rather than the more steadfast Cleary side of the family. O’Brien recounts her elopement and move to London, England against family wishes in the early fifties, and then later O’Brien writes of her divorce and fight for child custody subjecting her personal life to the stiff preconceived ideas of the mid-sixties. Within these pages, we see an intimate look back on Ireland and the troubles that have plagued the island. Edna O’Brien’s thoughts regarding her own history as well as history in general are sympathetic, wistful, and engaging.
Through O’Brien’s memoir, the reader is introduced to a flurry of famous names. There are humorous anecdotes, such as Paul McCartney waking O’Brien’s sons to sing them a popular tune of the day. There are other stories of O’Brien’s visits with writers, artists, politicians and actors, such as Richard Burton, whose voice mesmerized her. There are always the amazing recounts throughout Country Girl of the people who entered her life even for a moment. Either O’Brien kept detailed journals of her daily life, or she has an astounding gift for recollection. Although she recounts stories of other individuals in her life, the stories remain her stories about her life.
Edna O’Brien’s memoir is a satisfying read. She is humorous, touching, thoughtful, and she always seems honest in her reflections. One doesn’t have to have read O’Brien’s books to appreciate the stories of her life as presented in Country Girl, but perhaps her memoir will entice the reader to discover O’Brien’s fiction and poetry.
Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Little, Brown and Company. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.