In praise of Edna O’Brien, by Eimear McBride

Celebrating Irish women writers: ‘I fell in love with the deep, beautiful humanity of her prose and the incautious honesty of her portrayal of the Irish female experience’

 Edna O’Brien: writes fiercely about subjects that shock and torment us.  Photograph:  Bryan O’Brien

Edna O’Brien: writes fiercely about subjects that shock and torment us. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

The only good thing that happened to me in 1990 was reading The Country Girls. I was 14, miserable at the Gaeltacht and in dire need of a brush with the sublime that Edna O’Brien’s famous, infamous and in every way glorious debut novel provided. I spent the rest of the year reading everything from the hugely undervalued Night up to the wonderful stories in Lantern Slides.

It was years before I understood that the thorny path every woman writing in Ireland must tread in pursuit of acknowledgment of her work was cleared for them by her, at significant personal cost. That summer I fell in love with the deep, beautiful humanity of her prose and the incautious honesty of her portrayal of the Irish female experience.

That, more than 50 years after The Country Girls ’ cataclysmic publication, O’Brien is still writing fiercely about subjects that shock and torment our society, is proof of how deserving she is of the position she now holds at the forefront of our literature.

 

Eimear McBride’s debut novel, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing, won the inaugural Goldsmiths Prize, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award

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