Edna O’Brien on The Country Girls

A terrific essay by Edna O’Brien about the publication of her first novel The Country Girls. Well worth reading but I’ll pull out the two parts I liked especially:

The Country Girls took three weeks, or maybe less, to write. After I brought my sons Carlo and Sasha to the local school in Morden, I came home, sat by the windowsill of their bedroom and wrote and wrote. It was as if I was merely a medium for the words to flow. The emotional crux hinged on Ireland, the country I had left and wanted to leave, but now grieved for, with an inexplicable sorrow.

Images of roads and ditches and bog and bog lake assailed me, as did the voice of my mother, tender or chastising, and even her cough when she lay down at night. In the fields outside, the lonely plaint of cattle, dogs barking and, as I believed, ghosts. All the people I had encountered kept re-emerging with a vividness: Hickey our workman, whom I loved; my father, whom I feared; knackers; publicans; a travelling salesman by the name of Sacco, who sold spectacles and sets of dentures; and the tinkers who rapped on the door demanding money in exchange for mending tin pots. There was the embryo poet, an amateur historian and the blacksmith who claimed to have met the film director John Ford on the streets of Galway and was asked to appear in The Quiet Man, but declined out of filial duty. The lost landscape of childhood.

I’m going through something right now – some developments in my life – that have put a fire under me. I have a deadline. I have to get to work. Reading her essay really bolstered me up.

And then this lovely bit:

Where do words come from, I wondered. I still wonder. Because even without books or rather with only prayer books and bloodstock manuals in our house, I had conceived a love of words and assembled my own little crop of them. I believed they had magical associations and that something amazing could be done with them. I had, of course, the language of the Gospels, which to me seemed and seems perfect, and the marvelling narratives of Irish myths and fables. I learnt everything through Irish, except English itself, and I loved both tongues.

Here is my post on The Country Girls.

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