Review of ‘The Country Girls Trilogy’ by Edna O’Brien

Banned in the author’s native Ireland, these novels set in the late 1950s are a perceptive and gritty portrait of women’s lives. The writing style seems familiar now because it has been influential on later generations of writers, but I think both the style and the content were ahead of their time.

This volume is comprised of:

The Country Girls (1960), narrated by teenaged Caithleen, from a rural Catholic family marred by tragedy. Along with her best friend Baba, she rebels at convent school. She is in love with an older sophisticated man but they can’t be together.

The Lonely Girl, aka Girl with Green Eyes (1962), again narrated by Caithleen, tells of her life in Dublin and an affair with a man who seems different to the others but will break her heart. Her alcoholic father is trying to get her to move back home.

Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964) has two narrators, that of Baba (who is lively and cynical where Cait is quieter but more passionate) and third person perspective. Now living in London, they’re still looking for love and happiness while struggling with motherhood and marriage.

Epilogue (1987) is narrated by Baba, more bitter than ever as she tells us what else has gone wrong with their lives over the past twenty years or so.

The content is sometimes sad, sometimes darkly funny, but always observant. I’m sure there are elements that resonate with readers familiar with Ireland and Catholic values, however the overriding theme is about what it is to be female. I have no doubt this is great literature and certainly it was courageous for the era.

I felt that the ending of each volume was rather an anti-climax but I supposed that was the point, the content reflected real life. I’m not sure that the epilogue (added for the first omnibus edition) was necessary, although it does have some of the most powerful writing.

The Faber edition was published in 2017 with a foreword by Eimear McBride.

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