The Country Girls Trilogy by Edna O Brien is the Dublin: One City One Book 2019 Choice. All citizens are encouraged to read the novel that Lee Brackstone, O’Brien’s editor at Faber and Faber, describes as detonating ‘a literary bomb, the reverberations of which continue to work their way through the culture and the Irish diaspora. The Country Girls is one of the beacons of radial 20th century literature.’
The year was 1960:
JFK won the Presidential race
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee was published
Princess Margaret married Antony Armstrong Jones
The world’s first female Prime Minister was elected in Sri Lanka
Cassius Clay won his first professional flight
‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ goes on sale in the UK, 32 years after it was banned
Coronation Street premiered
Bono was born
It was by all accounts an exciting time. In 2018, a modern reader would find it hard pressed to see how The Country Girls was banned, burned, and denounced from altars across the country due to its labelling as ‘a dirty book’. Any episode nowadays of Fair City or indeed Coronation Street contains far more scandalous goings on. So as outdated as The Country Girls may appear at first glance, if you peel away the layers you begin to appreciate just how hard women had to fight to gain more control over their own lives.
1950s Ireland- poverty, the control of Church, the position of women, the rampant abuse of alcohol all stands in Caithleen’s way out of her dysfunctional family home (2018 does not appear so different in hindsight for many of our citizens in the current economic clime). Going to Dublin allows an opportunity to break free for a while, to be independent.
As a social history document, the novel is remarkably rich in detail. As a novel, the characters muddle their way through their ordinary lives and manage to pique our interest and concern for the most part. The abrupt nature of the ending raised hopes in our members for a timely follow up in the sequel but that does not take place. You will need to fill in the gaps yourself.
Edna’s writing is transparent- no detail is sugar coated- the father’s drinking sessions, the nuns’ coldness at the boarding school, the neighbour’s sexual advances on the teenage protagonist, the friend’s jealous nature. it’s a relatively easy read and certainly offers the reader an insight into our recent history. It’s a slow burner and nothing is going to jump off the page at you, it’s not that type of book. It never claimed to be, all Edna did was write about what she knew and that was enough to have the Irish censor scurrying to quieten her. And now Dublin is calling for its citizens to read this book and to celebrate it. Lessons have been learned.
Next up on the list is ‘Educated’ the fascinating memoir of Tara
Westover, published in February 2018. Tara is the daughter of radical survivalist Mormons from Idaho. She chose education as a means of escaping her upbringing, but it came at a price. This pick for our October book club resulted from our discussion of The Country Girls. I hope you enjoy it.
In store now at Books@One.