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The Country Girls by Edna O'Brien

Originally published Hutchinson, 1960; this edition Penguin Books 1963


Why?

It was on the bookshelf where we were staying on holiday and I've always been meaning to read this trilogy. Banned by the Irish censorship board at the time of publication, The Country Girls went on to win the Kingsley Amis Award.


There was also a coincidental follow-on from the book I had just finished, Daphne du Maurier's Hungry Hill, in that the family's "big house" was burnt down by the Tans - which is exactly what happens to the Broderick family house at the end of Hungry Hill. So this felt oddly apposite.


Enjoyment factor

The book is short at less than 200 pages, and I imagine was conceived at the outset as the first in a trilogy, as it leaves the reader hanging at the end. Lyrical prose as expected, but not a great deal of plot - from the perspective of a modern reader, I'd go as far as to say that it's a quiet novel.


It left me thinking ...

That one of the joys of reading is making serendipitous connections between one's personal book choices. Following on from Hungry Hill, The Country Girls coincidentally continued the story of Ireland into the twentieth century - but its convent setting also has strong echoes of Antonia White's Frost In May, which I'd read previously. Intentionally following a theme is rewarding, but unintentional connections are doubly so.


And that we should celebrate how far we've come in terms of social liberation. There was nothing out of the ordinary here at all - and yet, just sixty years ago, this novel was banned.

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