Womb. Blood. Hell. Fire. The unusual life of Edna O’Brien


Not for Edna O’Brien an ordinary family dog. Here’s Abdullah, who lurked by the gate to terrify the postman and visitors:

He was literally going mad, tearing at (my) dress spitting bits of it out…presently I keeled over under his weight and felt the bite, his teeth like nails boring into my neck and the scoop of flesh that he was trying to bite off… when a total stranger happened to pass by the window…He rushed in, pulled Abdullah to the floor, kicked him several times, then by the short hairs dragged him from the kitchen…pp 15-16.

 As a young girl she ran away with a married man (she says she never loved a man who wasn’t married) and refused to return when her family came looking for her. When she married, and wrote a book:

I had left a spare copy on the hall table for my husband to read, should he wish, and one morning he surprised me by appearing quite early in the doorway of the kitchen, the manuscript in his hand. He had read it. Yes, he had to concede that despite everything I had done it, and then he said something that was the death-knell of the already ailing marriage – ‘You can write and I will never forgive you.’ p135

This was The Country Girls, which became a runaway success and set her on the career that still continues, after twenty-two novels, four works of non-fiction and four plays.

She struggled to gain custody of her two sons, and winning it, sent them away to boarding school. Obviously she needed her freedom to do things like drop acid with R.D. Laing:

I drank my potion from a glass. I do not recall it having any taste. As I sat there I remembered that I must ask him to hold me, or at least hold my hand, but as the words came stuttering out, he had suddenly, in that winged armchair, metamorphosed into a rat, an executive rat, trussed inside a suit with a collar and tie… The world was spinning, spinning, and the floor underneath began to sway like the waves of an ocean… It went on for hour after hour… I was on the floor, gasping, each onslaught more hideous than that which preceded it. Womb. Blood. Hell. Fire. The wounded pith of an opened fig. p.190

And no going gentle into that good night for Edna. The memoir, written when she was eighty-two, ends on this note:

At home, I turned on all the lights, including the red lamp in the upstairs room, and it did not seem empty at all, it was full of light, like a room readying itself for a last banquet. p.335

Not the last supper, though – at eighty-six, she’s still writing.

Edna O’Brien: Country Girl – A Memoir

9 thoughts on “Womb. Blood. Hell. Fire. The unusual life of Edna O’Brien

  1. Some how seeing a woman, on the cover of a book, with a cigarette in her mouth, puffing away, is so unappealing. Sure she had spirit but somehow got caught up in the cool factor.

    1. You have made a good point Leslie. She seems to have been rather a lost soul through most of her life; dazzled by the big names, but lacking in self protection.

    1. As you are not (probably) a woman, Irish, or Catholic her work would have limited appeal for you, although The Little Red Chairs has a broader theme and is quite confronting.

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