This memoir has such a delightful beginning–with O’Brien’s memories
from her Irish childhood, that I thought I was going to have to run out
and buy a copy. The anecdotes just kept coming and I laughed and
admired her witty ways with a story. It helped to be Irish and have
a Catholic background! But anyone would enjoy her tales of visitors to
her house when she was little.
I especially liked the three brothers who had one good topcoat among
them and so had to take turns going to different Masses on Sundays.
Her mother was strict and never encouraged Edna’s interest in literature
and writing. But they had a bond when her father terrorized the family
with his binges. She married young–to another writer and had two little boys.
The marriage ended in divorce after Edna’s writing began to bring success.
Her husband was jealous and embittered, wanted custody of the sons.
From that point on, O’Brien is on her own and the book changes in its tone
to one of a meandering life leading from one place to call home, to another.
Sometimes the boys are with her, sometimes with the father, and are finally
sent to boarding school.
I’m sorry to say that the remainder of the book is a long litany listing various
events and travels over the years, with unending name-dropping. The
parties and hotels and resorts and travel are included as if taken line by
line from a journal. She taught at American universities, gave lectures,
and I would have liked some more information or even text from those
lectures. We are excluded from what this important author could have
said to us.
For instance, while sitting on a bench outside a café in New York, she
describes a recent heavy snowfall on nearby bushes, “making white
floppy flowers the size of cauliflowers.” More of that! Less of who
was at which party.
One of her acquaintances was Jackie Onassis. She grew up in a
close loving family. O’Brien writes of her, “Long before she was a
First Lady, she had the certainly of one who was cherished, and the
little girl in her held on to that; it was her armor, and it saw her
through varying nightmares with astonishing poise.”
Edna O’Brien was born in 1930 in Ireland. She left after her first
book, The Country Girls, was published and banned in Ireland. I read
that so long ago, July 1967, that I’ve forgotten it. Perhaps I’ll reread it.
This memoir was published in 2012. She is a good writer with twenty-one
works of fiction listed, as well as non-fiction and drama. I was disappointed
when the memoir turned to a recollection of who she knew when.