Country Girl: A Memoir

Country Girl: A Memoir

3.0 8
by Edna O'Brien
     
 

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Country Girl is Edna O'Brien's exquisite account of her dashing, barrier-busting, up-and-down life."—National Public Radio

When Edna O'Brien's first novel, The Country Girls, was published in 1960, it so scandalized the O'Briens' local parish that the book was burned by its priest. O'Brien was undeterred and has since created a body of

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Overview

Country Girl is Edna O'Brien's exquisite account of her dashing, barrier-busting, up-and-down life."—National Public Radio

When Edna O'Brien's first novel, The Country Girls, was published in 1960, it so scandalized the O'Briens' local parish that the book was burned by its priest. O'Brien was undeterred and has since created a body of work that bears comparison with the best writing of the twentieth century. Country Girl brings us face-to-face with a life of high drama and contemplation.

Starting with O'Brien's birth in a grand but deteriorating house in Ireland, her story moves through convent school to elopement, divorce, single-motherhood, the wild parties of the '60s in London, and encounters with Hollywood giants, pop stars, and literary titans. There is love and unrequited love, and the glamour of trips to America as a celebrated writer and the guest of Jackie Onassis and Hillary Clinton. Country Girl is a rich and heady accounting of the events, people, emotions, and landscape that have imprinted upon and enhanced one lifetime.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Dwight Garner
This memoir is the book one has long wanted from Ms. O'Brien. She has famously had an adventurous life…You might come…for the gossip, but you'll stay for this memoir's ardent portrait of a young woman struggling to find her identity both as a human being and a writer…Country Girl is, like Ms. O'Brien's best fiction, plain-spoken and poetic in equal measure.
The New York Times Book Review - Stacy Schiff
Any book that is any good must be autobiographical, O'Brien has asserted. And any memoir that is any good must be better-proportioned than real life. This one is shapely in the curvaceous ways of longing and regret. It begins with a diagnosis of hearing loss and ends with a set of 3-D glasses, both of them revelatory. O'Brien does not omit the times when the words failed to come, when the heart shattered, when…she had very nearly had enough. The past surges and eddies throughout, with a logic and texture of its own. Its author remains beguiling and brave, as lucid as ever about the rapturous lows and the punishing highs. Her eye is pitiless and her prose sumptuous.
The Washington Post - Jonathan Yardley
Edna O'Brien, for whom the word "redoubtable" may well have been coined, has lived a long and quite remarkable life…the author of more than two dozen books, she has at last turned to the story of her own life in this memoir, though of course her life has been the raw material for much of the fiction—much of which is entirely extraordinary—she has written since the publication of her first novel, The Country Girls, in 1960. The first couple of hundred pages of Country Girl are wonderful, the second 150 rather less so, but anyone who knows and loves her work, as I do, will want to read it from start to finish.
Publishers Weekly
Demure reflections on her celebrated literary life well lived comprise this lovely memoir by Irish novelist and short story author O’Brien (Saints and Sinners). Organized thematically, O’Brien meanders from her deeply Catholic, decidedly respectable upbringing in Drewsboro, County Clare, where the budding young writer experienced the sensuous rural impressions that imbued her early work, through schooling with the Galway nuns and a four-year apprenticeship at a chemist’s shop in Dublin. But she yearned for a glittering literary world, “with all its sins and guile and blandishments.” Indeed, marrying the older, cosmopolitan novelist Ernest Gebler in her early 20s allowed O’Brien instant entrée into the literary milieu. She also gave birth to two sons. The publication of her first novel, The Country Girls, in 1960, spelled both the end of her marriage to a seething, resentful husband and her start as the novelist of the moment, reviled by the church for her depictions of liberated, sexual women while feted by literary lions of London and New York. Fetching, game, and talented, O’Brien attracted numerous famous studs, and she makes some bedroom confessions, revealing a night of “sparkle” with Robert Mitchum. The book also includes lively depictions of her Saturday-night parties in her house in Putney, England, during the Swinging Sixties. From Chelsea to New York to Donegal, O’Brien always returns to the enduring heart of her writing. Agent: Ed Victor, Ed Victor Literary Agency. (Apr.)
Philip Roth
"Edna O'Brien has made of her memories something of both precision and depth, a book that, letting us see her as she was, jumps with an all-consuming curiosity from one lucidly narrated event to another, the scenes of disenchantment and bewilderment mingling with an assortment of surprises, traps, and ventures that are often, but not always, disastrous shocks. She is an observer of tears, including her own, and is able to differentiate what she calls the good tears from the bad. Only Colette is her equal as a student of the ardors of an independent woman who is also on her own as a writer."
From the Publisher
Praise for Country Girl"

Ms. O'Brien has long and correctly been recognized as among the greatest Irish writers of the 20th century. She's had an outsize life to match her outsize talent."—Dwight Garner, New York Times"

O'Brien's account of her life is completely irresistible."—Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe"

O'Brien's religion has been literature; to it she has remained devout, with a fervor that is contagious...She is no saint. She is an icon."—Stacy Schiff, New York Times Book Review"

In prose as lyrical and exacting as any in O'Brien's fiction, Country Girl evokes both the solitariness and the adventure of a life devoted to writing."—Megan O'Grady, Vogue"

Edna O'Brien has made of her memories something of both precision and depth, a book that, letting us see her as she was, jumps with an all-consuming curiosity from one lucidly narrated event to another."—Philip Roth"

In Country Girl there is great honesty and struggle, and joy and sorrow leaping together—pure life!"—Alice Munro"

You must suffer to become yourself, and it doesn't get easier. I took heart from Country Girl, both as the self-portrait of a great prose stylist, and an exemplary female survivor."—Judith Thurman, "Best Books of 2012," The New Yorker"

Flashes of prodigious beauty and power."—Hilary Mantel"

The doyenne of contemporary Irish letters did not enjoy a straight-line rise to international fame and critical regard. . .Now, of course, O'Brien's fiction (brilliant short stories as well as novels) is seen for what it always was, richly illuminating and, yes, candid depictions of women's needs and desires, rendered with no sentimentality or salaciousness. . . .Her book is a beautifully expressed testament to a writer's tenacity."- Brad Hooper, Booklist (starred review)

"

Demure reflections on her celebrated literary life well lived comprise this lovely memoir....O'Brien always returns to the enduring heart of her writing."-Publishers Weekly (starred review)"

Country Girl is a book of magics, truths, stories, and quiet immensity. No one else could have written it, and no one else could have lived it."- Andrew O'Hagan, author of Be Near Me"

Get ready to applaud, ladies and gentlemen, because there is no one like her. O'Brien, in her 80s, may look like an icon and talk like an icon, but she writes like the thing itself, with prose that is scrupulous and lyrical, beautiful and exact...."- Anne Enright, Guardian (UK)"

When sex fails you, there's always gossip. An excellent memoir, Country Girl provided it in shedloads, along with some moral seriousness to boot."- Louise Doughty, Observer (UK)"

Edna O'Brien's Country Girl shimmers with heart, soul and literary brilliance."- Nancy R. Ives, Library Journal"

After dazzling readers and reviewers around the world for decades, O'Brien, now 82, finally turns her attention to her own life. Country Girl is as dramatic as any novel."-O, the Oprah Magazine"

O'Brien is skilled at snatching triumph from melancholy....Thrilling, sensuous, unblinking."- Lisa Shea, Elle"

Edna O'Brien had to exile herself, like Joyce and Beckett, to become herself. Mad Ireland hurt her into prose the way Auden said it had hurt Yeats into poetry....Literature-O'Brien's most faithful companion, her deepest faith-brings what consolation it can. She returns the favor by adding her extravagant lyricism to its trove."- Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times"

A wonderful, lively memoir."- Katie Roiphe, Slate.com"

Edna O'Brien, for whom the word 'redoubtable' may well have been coined, has lived a long and quite remarkable life...Anyone who knows and loves her work, as I do, will want to read Country Girl from start to finish."- Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post"

We follow O'Brien through convent school, love affairs, motherhood, the banning of her books, and her working years in London and New York. Along the way, we encounter Günter Gras, Joseph Brodsky, Jackie Onassis, and other luminaries. O'Brien beautifully renders her remarkably rich life, her 'many me's.'"-The New Yorker"

This is a big, robust life, and though one might come for the literary gossip, the lucid prose and sharp insight command one's attention. It's with good reason that this memoir has been placed on so many lists of best books of 2013...We're in the thrall of one of the most beguiling and resilient contemporary writers, a stylist and a survivor...through it all, she's an exuberant literary pioneer." - Elizabeth Taylor, Chicago Tribune (Editor's Choice)

Kirkus Reviews
The octogenarian Irish novelist, playwright, poet, biographer (and more) revisits her rich and sometimes rowdy life. The best sections of this episodic memoir are the first and final quarters of the text. In the first, O'Brien (Saints and Sinners, 2011, etc.) writes affectingly of her girlhood--her memories of being attacked by an ill-tempered dog, of playing with dolls in her dining room, and of discovering and nurturing her interest in literature and writing. "The words ran away with me," she writes. She worked in a pharmacy in Dublin but soon fled when the seductions of sex and literature and celebrity whispered that she could have a very different life than the one she was experiencing. Her account of her marriage to writer Ernest Gébler is grim and often depressing (understatement: he was not happy about her literary success), but she eventually left him, battled for custody of her children (she eventually won) and soared off into celebrity, a state that consumes the middle--and weakest--sections of the book. She seems determined to list every famous person she encountered, and the roster seems endless--John Osborne, Robert Mitchum, Paul McCartney, R.D. Laing (who became her therapist), Harold Pinter, Gore Vidal (she stayed at his Italian villa), Arthur Schlesinger and Norman Mailer. On and on go the names, a virtual phone book of the famous. These sections are mere molecules on the surface of some much deeper issues that she neglects. In the final quarter, O'Brien returns to some effective ruminations about finding a place that's "home" and about feeling mortal--even old (an encounter with Jude Law is poignant). Near the end, she revisits her abandoned girlhood home, drifting through it and remembering. Emotion and reflection contend for prominence with superficiality; the former win, but barely.
Library Journal
O'Brien's (A Fanatic Heart) memoir chronicles her journey from the Catholic restraints of her childhood in Ireland to her success as a prolific writer. In 1960, O'Brien shocked Ireland with her debut novel, The Country Girls, a sexually outspoken story about young women in love whose needs often conflict with those of their male counterparts. This led to strong disapproval from the Irish Catholic community. Yet her writing found an appreciative audience in the wider world. She lived the Swinging Sixties life in London, taking LSD and hanging out with such celebrities as Paul McCartney, Robert Mitchum, and Sean Connery, furthering her reputation as a wild, unconventional woman. VERDICT While O'Brien overly devotes her time to cataloguing the notable actors, writers, and politicians of her acquaintance, the accounts of her childhood and her descriptions of Ireland soar with a lyricism reminiscent of Joyce. Recommended for memoir lovers and readers with a desire for more insight into this important 20th-century literary figure.—Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780316122702
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
04/30/2013
Pages:
357
Sales rank:
938,814
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)

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Philip Roth
Edna O'Brien has made of her memories something of both precision and depth, a book that, letting us see her as she was, jumps with an all-consuming curiosity from one lucidly narrated event to another, the scenes of disenchantment and bewilderment mingling with an assortment of surprises, traps, and ventures that are often, but not always, disastrous shocks. She is an observer of tears, including her own, and is able to differentiate what she calls the good tears from the bad. Only Colette is her equal as a student of the ardors of an independent woman who is also on her own as a writer.

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