The Little Red Chairs

The Little Red Chairs

4.5 2
by Edna O'Brien

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A fiercely beautiful novel about one woman's struggle to reclaim a life shattered by betrayal, from one of the greatest storytellers of our time

One night, in the dead of winter, a mysterious stranger arrives in the small Irish town of Cloonoila. Broodingly handsome, worldly, and charismatic, Dr. Vladimir Dragan is a poet, a self-proclaimed holistic


A fiercely beautiful novel about one woman's struggle to reclaim a life shattered by betrayal, from one of the greatest storytellers of our time

One night, in the dead of winter, a mysterious stranger arrives in the small Irish town of Cloonoila. Broodingly handsome, worldly, and charismatic, Dr. Vladimir Dragan is a poet, a self-proclaimed holistic healer, and a welcome disruption to the monotony of village life. Before long, the beautiful black-haired Fidelma McBride falls under his spell and, defying the shackles of wedlock and convention, turns to him to cure her of her deepest pains.

Then, one morning, the illusion is abruptly shattered. While en route to pay tribute at Yeats's grave, Dr. Vlad is arrested and revealed to be a notorious war criminal and mass murderer. The Cloonoila community is devastated by this revelation, and no one more than Fidelma, who is made to pay for her deviance and desire. In disgrace and utterly alone, she embarks on a journey that will bring both profound hardship and, ultimately, the prospect of redemption.

Moving from Ireland to London and then to The Hague, THE LITTLE RED CHAIRS is Edna O'Brien's first novel in ten years -- a vivid and unflinching exploration of humanity's capacity for evil and artifice as well as the bravest kind of love.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Joyce Carol Oates
Edna O'Brien's boldly imagined and harrowing new novel…is both an exploration of those themes of Irish provincial life from the perspective of girls and women for which she has become acclaimed and a radical departure, a work of alternate history in which the devastation of a war-torn Central European country intrudes upon the "primal innocence, lost to most places in the world," of rural Ireland. Here, in addition to O'Brien's celebrated gifts of lyricism and mimetic precision, is a new, unsettling fabulist vision that suggests Kafka more than Joyce, as her portrait of the psychopath "warrior poet" Vladimir Dragan suggests Nabokov in his darker, less playful mode…O'Brien is not interested in sensationalizing her material, and The Little Red Chairs is not a novel of suspense, still less a mystery or a thriller; it is something more challenging, a work of meditation and penance.
Publishers Weekly
In a melodramatic (and appropriate) opening, it is a “dark and stormy night” when stranger Vladimir Dragan arrives in Cloonoila, a small village in rural Ireland. Handsome, white-bearded Vlad calls himself a poet and healer. He ingratiates himself into the community, offering rejuvenating massages. An Irish village is, of course, O’Brien’s (The Love Object) traditional domain, and as usual she conveys the close, warm, slightly claustrophobic web of small-town relationships. Vlad is eventually revealed as “the Beast of Bosnia,” a ruthless military leader responsible for thousands of deaths in the recent genocide. But meanwhile, Fidelma McBride, a beautiful, sexually starved young woman married to an older man, is transfixed by Vlad’s charismatic personality. She abandons discretion and arranges trysts so that Vlad can fulfill her yearning to have a child. Tragedy ensues: Fidelma loses her marriage, her self-respect, and is forced to leave Cloonoila. The scene shifts to a vibrantly intense London, where a penniless Fidelma must take menial jobs. Vlad’s trial for war crimes in The Hague is another jarringly effective shift of scene; it serves as the culmination of his victims’ harrowing memories, which are scattered throughout the narrative. (The title refers to the 11,541 empty chairs set out in Sarajevo in 2012 as a national monument to represent people killed during the siege by Bosnian Serb forces.) Against this dark subterranean thread O’Brien interjects lines from classic poets—Virgil, Yeats, Byron, Dickinson—who attest to the enduring power of love. Fidelma’s eventual redemption seems forced, but O’Brien’s eerily potent gaze into the nature of evil is haunting. Agent: Ed Victor, Ed Victor Ltd. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
"O'Brien has done more than many governments by giving voice to the dispossessed in this novel of remembrance."—Susan Balee, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Unashamedly rich and thrilling to read.... It's breathtaking, a fusion of joy, loss and brutality."—Ron Rosenbaum, Smithsonian Magazine

"A brilliant pastiche of voices, tenses, perspectives."—Catherine Holmes, Post and Courier

"It's hard to believe that an 85-year-old can still write books big in size and scope with such vitality, grace and precision, but that's exactly what O'Brien does..... [She] has created characters so multifaceted and vivid that they don't become stereotypical as this masterwork evolves from love story into engaging political novel about real-world tyrants."Joseph Peschel, Raleigh News and Observer

Library Journal
★ 02/15/2016
Dr. Vlad Dragan, a holistic healer from the Balkans, arrives in the western Irish village of Cloonoila and quickly becomes its cure; married but childless, Fidelma McBride enlists the mysterious doctor to impregnate her. As the tale of their affair circulates, Dragan disappears, and a bereft Fidelma is devastated to learn that he is accused of the deaths of thousands during the Siege of Sarajevo (1991–96) and has been sent to the Hague to be tried for crimes against humanity. Rejected by her husband, Fidelma flees first to London, where she attempts to re-create her life as a refugee, and then to the Hague to settle matters with Dragan, assured of nothing except the vastness of his evil. Having lost her home, husband, and ideals, Fidelma opens herself to new possibilities, including hope. VERDICT This 18th novel from O'Brien (Saints and Sinners) delivers noble truths as well as atrocities. Her fictional depiction of Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadić will chill readers not only because it convincingly exposes the egoism of a rational madman but also because these horrors happened. O'Brien's mastery of symbolism and natural description remain unmatched in modern fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 9/14/15.]—John G. Matthews, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2016-01-09
An Irish town is touched by the war crimes in Sarajevo when an outsider sleeps with a local woman and she's driven by shame and brutality into exile. Wearing a long dark coat and white gloves, the mysterious Vladimir Dragan arrives in Cloonoila, a backwater of western Ireland, sometime after 2012. He says he's from Montenegro and asserts that there are links between Ireland and the Balkans. He soon sets up shop as an alternative healer and sex therapist. For 40-year-old Fidelma, who's suffered two failed pregnancies and no longer expects much from her older husband, Vlad may be a last chance. She and the rest of Cloonoila don't know he's a wanted war criminal based on Radovan Karadzic, the man behind the siege of Sarajevo, where 11,541 red chairs were set out to commemorate the siege's victims in 2012, including 643 of the title's little red chairs for children killed. When men pursuing Vlad brutally abort Fidelma's new pregnancy, she chooses exile in London, joining the streams of refugees moving all over Europe, the unending diaspora fueled by war, fundamentalism, hatred. Some are among the half-dozen nationalities of the staff at Cloonoila's hotel who trade personal stories of displacement on a veranda after midnight. Fidelma also will hear refugees' tales in a makeshift London shelter run by a Sarajevo survivor where "the flotsam of the world" gather to share their narratives. As O'Brien (The Love Object, 2015, etc.) brought the larger world to Cloonoila through Vlad, she ends by giving her West Country woman a seat at Vlad's war-crimes trial. O'Brien's writing in this rich, wrenching book can be both lyrical and hard-edged, which suits a world where pain shared or a tincture of kindness can help ease the passage from losses.

Product Details

Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.40(d)

Meet the Author

Edna O'Brien is the author of The Country Girls trilogy, The Light of Evening, The Love Object, and many other acclaimed books. Born and raised in the west of Ireland, O'Brien has lived in London for many years.

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The Little Red Chairs 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
KarenEvans 11 days ago
Intense! Don’t read anything about this book besides the book itself. Skip the reviews (except this one) and definitely skip the dust jacket! Light a fire, grab a throw blanket, perhaps a glass of wine, and settle in for the long haul. Watch your world fade around you as you begin reading: on a cold, dark night a stranger appears in an Irish village… "On the 6th of April 2012, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the start of the siege of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serb forces, 11,541 red chairs were laid out in rows along the 800 meters of the Sarajevo high street. One empty chair for every Sarajevan killed during the 1,425 days of siege. Six hundred and forty-three small chairs represented the children killed by snipers and the heavy artillery fired from the surrounding mountains." This “read in one sitting” sort of a book and was delivered to me, signed, as the March pick for Parnassus’s First Edition Book Club!
thewanderingjew More than 1 year ago
The Little Red Chairs, Edna O’Brien, author; Juliet Stevenson, narrator In March, of 2016, Radovan Karadzik was sentenced to 40 years in prison for crimes against humanity by the United Nations Court in The Hague. He led the siege of Sarajevo, beginning in 1992 and continuing until 1995, in which thousands of Sarajevans were slaughtered by the Serbs. Karadzik, sometimes called the Butcher of Bosnia, is the very real person O’Brien has based her novel upon. Eluding capture for more than a decade, one of his alias identities was Dr. David Dragan. O’Brien makes use of that last name in her novel. In April of 2012, on the 20th anniversary of the siege of Sarajevo, thousands of empty chairs were laid out in the streets to commemorate the Sarajevan lives that were lost. The book takes its title from that event. The author has placed Karadzik in the person of a character named Dr. Vladimir Dragan, also known as Vuk, which means wolf and is a fearsome name. The novel is an account of the time in which he supposedly eluded arrest in the fictional town of Cloonoila, in Ireland. Disguised as a healer and sex therapist, sometimes playfully called Dr. Vlad, he was intelligent, understood human nature and was quite likeable. He carried about him an air of mystery and mysticism and exhibited an unusual knowledge of many things, like the qualities of certain plants and vegetables to benefit health and a knowledge of psychiatry which helped him analyze the needs of the people. His beautiful head of white hair and his full beard, coupled with his soft-spoken presence, made him attractive to the women. One woman, Fidelma, was especially drawn to him. She confided to him, in one of their conversations, that she dearly wanted a child. The story of their relationship and its aftermath was a difficult part of the story to read, but it is used to explain, graphically, how violent and brutal the war experience was for the ordinary citizens of Sarajevo. Myths and legends and poetry embellish the tale. Although it takes place in the present time, there is a feeling of the past pervading the story and the location of the events is often hazy. It took me awhile to figure out that part of it was in Ireland and part in England. Perhaps it was because of the allusions to Dracula and Transylvania, and a bit of the occult, that I was distracted and believed it was taking place in European countries with a more fabled history. I found the story interesting mostly in its lyrical and descriptive presentation which was sometimes mesmerizing, owing also to the exceptional narration on the audio by Juliet Stevenson. I felt as if I was in the actual countryside observing the scenes. From some scenes, I actually wanted to avert my eyes. It was through the experiences related by many of the witnesses and victims, as they exposed the violence and brutality that had been inflicted upon them and their families during the siege, that the story truly plays out and Dragan’s (Karadzik’s) arrogant and cruel personality is imagined and presented. At times, the number of characters was overwhelming, and at other times, the story did not knit as well together as possible, leaving odd threads hanging about, making it a bit disjointed. Still, it prompted me to do research on the beast in the book, and for that the author deserves much credit. Shining a light on a piece of history that is not known well enough is a worthy effort, even if it is in fictional form. When it is based on a true