22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Edna O’Brien

Portrait Edna O'Brien
© Guardian News and Media Ltd.

The Irish author Edna O’Brien was born in 1930 in Tuamgraney, County Clare, and grew up in a strictly Catholic family of farmers. She attended a boarding school before studying at the Pharmaceutical College in Dublin, where she would subsequently work as a pharmacist for a short while. In 1959 she moved to London after marrying the Czech-Irish author Ernest Gébler.

Shortly thereafter she published her first novel »The Country Girls« (1960), which tells the story of two adolescent girls who escape their hateful little Irish town for the sexual freedom of the big city, only to fail once there. In Ireland, O’Brien‘s debut was met with outrage and disgust; copies of her book were publicly burned; and her next six books went unpublished in the country of her birth. O’Brien completed her trilogy with »The Lonely Girl« in 1962 and »Girls in Their Married Bliss« in 1964. Her works commonly explore the emotional world of women and the problems they face in society. Although she remained in London, her texts have continually returned to Ireland thematically, above all confronting the dark underbelly of Irish society. In »House of Splendid Isolation« (1994), an IRA fighter is hunted by the police and takes refuge in the home of an old woman. A series of flashbacks recounts the disappointing life of this woman, demoralized by years of marital strife in a thoroughly patriarchal world, while the gender war plays out at the national level. »Wild Decembers« (1999) is again set in a remote Irish village, unaffected by the advancement of civilization. In part through her poetic, earthy descriptions of nature, O’Brien focuses on the inner life of her protagonists, whose social fabric is shaken after the arrival of a descendant of an impoverished family that has emigrated to Australia – a situation that ends in a fatal tragedy. Her latest novel »The Little Red Chairs« (2015) is about an Irish woman who falls in love with a Serbian war criminal (with similarities to Radovan Karadžić) without knowing anything of his true identity.

Edna O’Brien has also published short stories and poetry, written theater plays and penned books of nonfiction, including an essayistic portrait of »James Joyce« (1999). Her literary work has received numerous prizes, such as the Kingsley Amis Award (1962), the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (1990) and the European Prize for Literature (1995). In 2006 she was appointed adjunct professor of English Literature at University College, Dublin. In 2009 she received the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award. The author lives in London.