cover image The Love Object: Selected Stories

The Love Object: Selected Stories

Edna O’Brien. Little, Brown, $30 (544p) ISBN 978-0-316-37826-0

O’Brien, who introduced an Irish female perspective to the 1960s literary landscape, has produced stories over the last half-century that resonate with charm and acerbity, lyricism and terseness, nostalgia and brute force. Her early stories depict an Ireland of isolated villages and poor mountain farms where, in a moment, dreams turn to hopelessness, innocence to shame. Autobiographical tales feature mothers recalling days in America, schoolgirls bristling at convent education, and country lasses escaping to London. In “Irish Revel,” a farm girl bicycles into town for a party only to find herself moving furniture and cooking dinner. In “Sister Imelda,” the title character returns from university lonely and apart, an exile “in the mind.” Spirited Eily of “A Scandalous Woman” ends up trapped in a spiritless marriage, and the protagonist of “The Conner Girls,” like Chekhovian figurines, are trapped by their own lack of will. “Mrs. Reinhardt” and “A Rose in New York” exemplify stories exploring relationships between women. Men are mostly observed by women, as in “The Love Object,” which details a London divorcée’s affair with a married man. “Brother” depicts a particularly vicious man through his sister’s murderous eyes. “The Shovel Kings” shows sympathy for Irish laborers in England. John Banville’s introduction to the collection highlights O’Brien’s technique as well as her Irish roots. The stories validate his admiration—O’Brien’s self-described gallery of “strange” and “sacrificial” Irish women is indispensable. (May)