The Irish Times view on Edna O’Brien at 90: Still breaking new ground

O’Brien was once denounced from the pulpit and banned by the censor for truth-telling

Edna O’Brien’s portrait, by photographer Mandy O’Neill, was unveiled at National Gallery of Ireland to mark the writer’s 90th birthday

Edna O’Brien’s portrait, by photographer Mandy O’Neill, was unveiled at National Gallery of Ireland to mark the writer’s 90th birthday

 

‘To read Edna O’Brien is to know love: of words, of literature and of life itself,” wrote Eimear McBride in one of many tributes by fellow writers, which The Irish Times published on Tuesday to mark the Clare-born author’s 90th birthday. That same day, her portrait by Mandy O’Neill was unveiled at the National Gallery of Ireland. And that evening, O’Brien delivered the annual TS Eliot lecture, via the Abbey Theatre’s website, enabling a wide audience to marvel at the intellectual acuity, undimmed by age, of this grande dame of Irish letters.

It was, of course, not always thus. Now revered in Ireland and internationally, O’Brien was oncedenounced from the pulpit and banned by the censor for the audacity of her truth-telling. Now eminent, the author, like so many, became an emigrant rather than be stifled in an Ireland which treated women as second-class citizens.

Most authors embarking on their tenth decade must reconcile themselves to the waning of their creative powers. O’Brien not only perseveres but still breaks new ground

Most books first published in 1960 are out of print but O’Brien’s debut, The Country Girls, is still widely read – entrancing and influencing a new generation of writers and readers with what writer Elaine Feeney called “that revolutionary act of a woman writing complex women”. The Country Girls trilogy was Dublin’s 2019 One City One Book, embraced by the capital of a country transformed, now in tune with what had once been perceived as a discordant voice.

The elegant exactitude of her prose has been rightly celebrated. In the words of Eilís Ní Dhuibhne, “the boundary between poetry and prose melts away in her fiction”. Like Brian Moore, another exile, her oeuvre has expanded from intimate Irish stories to ambitious international subjects. The Little Red Chairs (2015) drew on Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic’s war crimes. Girl, last year’s Kerry Group Novel of the Year, was based on the Boko Haram kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls.

Most authors embarking on their tenth decade, many long before, must reconcile themselves to the waning of their creative powers. O’Brien not only perseveres but still breaks new ground.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.