Edna O'Brien is an Irish novelist, short story writer, playwright and screenwriter, known as a pioneer for her frank portrayals of women. She has written 13 novels, five collections of short stories and several plays and screenplays. Her writing is lyrical and intense with passion and longing. The influence of her Catholic upbringing is apparent in much of her work, which depicts both Irish village life during the 1940's and 1950's and contemporary urban settings. Her frank portrayals of female sexuality have drawn both praise and criticism, and have caused her books to be banned in Ireland.
O'Brien's first novel, The Country Girls (1960), was an immediate success and began a trilogy that continued with The Lonely Girl (1962), and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964), along with A Pagan Place (1970), Mother Ireland (1976), and The High Road (1988). The House of Splendid Isolation (1994) examined political and personal hatreds against the backdrop of the I.R.A.'s campaign to drive the British from Northern Ireland. Her short story collections include Returning (1982), Fanatic Heart (1985), and Lantern Slides (1990). Her latest novel, Down by the River, about incest in an Irish family, will be published in May.
"O'Brien is a storyteller, an Irish storyteller one, of an ancient tradition of storytellers, people who tell the truth." - Thomas Cahill, Los Angeles Times Book Review
"The same precision with which she portrays landscape is applied to human emotions; there isn't a single character in these stories who is unconvincing. O'Brien continues to display acute powers of observation in a prose that is always neat and often immaculate." - Louise Doughty, Times Literary Supplement on Latern Slides
"Edna O'Brien is quite simply a wonderful writer of short stories. She is evocative, sensual and technically subtle. Her writing is a real pleasure to read." - Sara Maitland, The Spectator on Returning
"No one today writes lovelier, fresher, more glowing and more mordant English than Edna O'Brien. Her prose newly mints the oldest, primal emotions, as if no one had perceived them before. Her passion is always controlled, but always passionate. She has a lover's quarrel with her native Ireland. “A pity beyond all telling”, wrote Yeats, “Is Hid in the heart of love.” Under a shy and melting exterior, she has the defiant courage of unflinching integrity. She has an eye, at once compassionate, satirical and implacable, for human folly and for human hope." - Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
The road silent, somnolent yet with a speech of its own, speaking back to them, father and child, through trappings of sun and fretted verdure, speaking of the old mutinies and a fresh crime mounting in the blood.
So begins Edna O'Brien's new novel, Down by the River. The consequences of that crime are far reaching. For the girl, her family and the conflicting mores of the land.
Set in her native Ireland, Edna O'Brien's novel explores the dark and umbilical aspects of family ties. As Mary, the young heroine, tries to conceal, then escape her fate, she finds herself driven into the emotional styx. As her private - and redeemable - tragedy is dragged into the public realm, her power of decision is usurped by militant factions on all sides.
In Down by the River, Edna O'Brien is at the peak of her narrative powers. Her gift for describing extremes of emotional conflict is at its most searing and poetic. Her prose churns the heart with its potent rhythms as she demonstrates how one person's history can be subsumed by church and state.
Here at once is a story relevant to our times, but encompassing age-old and primal themes.
Edna O'Brien gave a reading at the New York State Writers Institute on May 7, 1997.
"The great Colette's mantle has fallen to Edna O'Brien--a darker writer, more full of conflict, O'Brien nonetheless shares the earthiness, the rawness, the chiseled prose, the scars of maturity. she is a consummate stylist and, to my mind, the most gifted woman now writing fiction in English." - Philip Roth
"O'Brien's prose is so rich and original, her characters so urgently present, that a strange kind of elation is induced, reading about events that arouse our deepest fears." - Mirabella
"What amazes in book after book is O'Brien's hypnotically seductive storytelling, the power of her mesmerizing language, and her vision into the dark reaches of the human heart." - Miami Herald
"O'Brien brings together the earthy and the delicately poetic: she has the soul of Molly Bloom and the skills of Virginia Woolf." - Newsweek
Writers Online Magazine Article