Edna O’Brien and Duchess of Cornwall get on royally for her book club

Irish author, an honorary dame, discusses her career and her latest novel, Girl

Edna O’Brien is the latest guest on The Duchess of Cornwall’s Instagram book club podcast, The Reading Room.

Due to be broadcast in a series of videos to be shared via Instagram over the next fortnight, the discussion includes O’Brien speaking about the reaction of her family to her first trilogy, The Country Girls, which was originally banned in Ireland when it was published in the 1960s.

The duchess also asks O’Brien about her experiences travelling to Nigeria to speak to the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014, which inspired the novel Girl. When recommending the book on Instagram, the duchess said, “This brilliant Irish novelist lays bare the trauma of Nigeria’s abducted schoolgirls in this harrowing novel.”

Asked whether it was brave to have written The Country Girls, O’Brien said: “It was brave, and foolish. What is so interesting, and this is the truth, it did cause a bit of commotion, to put it mildly. And people were very offended and my family were ashamed, and I had betrayed my country and a lot of tosh. But at the time it hurt very much. People say to me, how could you have written that book? And I said, I have to tell you, I didn’t think there was anything offensive in it. I wrote it out of a loneliness.”

The Duchess of Cornwall goes on to describe O’Brien’s latest novel, Girl, loosely base don the Boko Haram kidnapping of Nigeieran schoolgirls as “a very brave leap in the dark”.

O’Brien said: “It was brave because I’m not young, but it was foolhardy as well. But I have no regrets about doing it.

“The impulse or the compulsion to do it was obviously brewing inside me having read about the capture, and not much else, because once they’re taken, it’s a hidden country. And then one day, I was in a doctor’s waiting room, and I read a three-line piece of news. A girl, Amina was her name, was found in Sambisa Forest by vigilantes. She had a baby clinging to her, they had no food, she did not know her name, and she had lost her reason. And there and then, because it’s funny about the incubation of a book, there and then I thought, I’m going to write that story.”

The author was appointed an honorary Dame of the British Empire for her services to literature in 2018. The duchess, a patron of the Royal Society of Literature, has also supported the Booker Prize since 2013. In January, she spoke to the author and artist Charlie Mackesy about his phenomenally successful book The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse. Next month, the book under discussion is A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel by Amor Towles.

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