I have just re-read this book, having initially enjoyed it many years ago.

I connected with it again, even more so this time round. And even more so now, the furore that surrounded the appearance of The Country Girls in 1960 both infuriates and embarrasses me…another fuel to my fire on the issue of repressed and fear driven Ireland.

I like O’Brien’s prose. It is readable and immediately accessible, but also nuanced and intelligent.

She captures well, and in a way that feels recognisable and reassuringly familiar, an Ireland and its people of a certain era:

‘Poor Mama, she was always a worrier. I suppose she lay there thinking of him, waiting for the sound of a motor-car to stop down the road, waiting for the sound of his feet coming through the wet grass, and for the noise of the gate hasp – waiting, and coughing.’

Women of Ireland indeed lived lives of worry and fear, suffering much in their years of waiting. The Country Girls is very much about escaping that Irish female destiny, which at least partly explains its condemnation by the fear-driven Catholic Ireland.

When her mother dies, Cait, the main ‘country girl’ of the title, fears that she will re-appear:

‘What is it about death that we cannot bear to have someone who is dead come back to us?’

Moving from rural Ireland, the ‘country’, to the city of Dublin was transformative for Cait (I, like Edna O’Brien, made a similar journey, but for us it was the longer, both literally and metaphorically, distance from provincial Ireland to London):

‘I knew now that this was the place I wanted to be. For evermore I would be restless for crowds and lights and noise. I had gone from the sad noises, the lonely rain pelting on the galvanized roof of the chicken-house, the moans of a cow in the night, when her calf was being born under a tree.’

I also connected with the need, that desperate one, to escape the boredom of growing up in the Ireland of a certain era, as verbalised by Cait’s friend Baba:

‘We’re eighteen and we’re bored to death… We want to live. Drink gin. Squeeze into the front of big cars and drive up outside big hotels. We want to go places.’

I no longer need to go places, at least not so much physically, but I am glad that I left Ireland behind, physically, when I could and did.

CQ

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