I was first introduced to Edna O’Brien’s work through the novel House of Splendid Isolation (1994) in my world literature class. I sincerely disliked this novel, and I couldn’t imagine reading any more of her work if it involved a terrorist keeping an old woman captive and the two of them talking throughout the whole book.
However, a few months later, as I browsed the fiction section of my university library just before summer break, I happened upon the O’Brien section, and there I found something that caught my eye: The Country Girls Trilogy (1987). I wanted to read that.
I took it home and became consumed in the narrative of girls from Ireland who lived in rough homes and who were orphaned and who were forced to attend schools run by nuns. I now can’t remember the exact narrative arc or the details of the plot, but I can remember how much I enjoyed this trilogy of books that includes the novels The Country Girls (1960) The Lonely Girl (1962), later published as Girl with Green Eyes, and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964). They reminded me of a female version of Angela’s Ashes (1996). If you liked Frank McCourt’s memoir, you’ll like this fictional account of young Irish girls trying to make it through their less-than-ideal circumstances.
I tend to like “depressing” books. I wonder if it has something to do with my Irish heritage. My great grandparents were of the Carmacks and the McMasters. I have light freckled skin that easily sunburns and a hint of red in my mousy brown hair. The Irish tend to have the best sad and lonely stories, and O’Brien’s work is no exception.
The novels follow the girls into their young adulthood, where they must struggle through work and romantic liaisons to figure out who they are. While their tales are set some fifty years ago, their struggles and emotions are still relevant. They tell a timeless story of growing up and making the best of one’s circumstances.