Behind the screen – Dublin in the swinging sixties

Tony Canavan compares Edna O’Brien’s The Lonely Girl with the film version


Edna O’Brienis now anaward-winning, internationally acclaimed and respected novelist, but this was not always the case. Her early novels, the so-called ‘The Country Girls’ trilogy, may have made her name but they got a mixed reception from critics and the public. In 1962 a reviewer in The New York Times, for example, described The Lonely Girl as uncomplicated and occasionally slapstick. Only in later years were they recognised as pioneering works not just about women but Irish society of the time. The Country Girls, her first novel, broke the silence on sexual matters and social issues in Ireland during that dark period after World War II (and out of which we have only comparatively recently emerged). While reviews abroad were on the whole positive, in Ireland her books were banned, denounced from the pulpit, and even burned in public, including by O’Brien’s own parish priest. It is no wonder that, like her heroines, she left Ireland to live in London.

Her writing is noted for its engagement with the inner feelings of women, their problems relating to men and their place in society. This is particularly true of The Lonely Girl, the second book in ‘The Country Girls’ trilogy. The three novels (Girls in their Married Bliss being the third) chart the lives of two Irish girls from childhood to middle age. Each novel is powerful enough to stand on its own, although they benefit from being read together. […]

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May/June 2018(issue no.379)

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