The Country Girls review: Subversion reimagined as sentimentality

The Abbey’s new take makes Edna O’Brien’s novel safe for any syllabus

The Country Girls. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh

The Country Girls. Photograph: Ros Kavanagh


Abbey Theatre, Dublin
“Oh, my God, where did you get it?” a shocked young nun asks when her poetic and curious charge, Kate, quotes from James Joyce’s Dubliners. “He’s anti-Christ!” That seems like a sly note of self-reference in Edna O’Brien’s stage adaptation of her celebrated 1960 debut novel, The Country Girls, which was also once a sensational piece of contraband in her own country. Where did you get it?

A remarkably told story of shedding innocence and thorny desires in 1950s Ireland – of convent-school eroticism, premarital sex and the city, and adultery with older men – it was variously banned, burnt and secretly devoured in Ireland. On one point, at least, its censors and champions could agree: literature is gloriously corrupting.

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