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Edna O'Brien – Brainy Oldie of the Year. By Roger Lewis

Features | By Roger Lewis


The beautiful, Irish elf-maiden's books were banned and burnt by outraged clergy. She is now the world's greatest novelist

Brainy Oldie of the Year – Edna O'Brien

Edna O’Brien, who turns 90 on 15th December, is the world’s greatest living novelist.

She began as a beautiful, Irish elf maiden, whose books were banned and burnt by the outraged Catholic clergy.

Having quite vanquished narrow-minded critics and moralists, she is now a grand old queen of letters, a Dame of the British Empire, officially anointed in Dublin as a Saoi or Wise One.

Her sin, and her abiding fame, was to have described sexual liberation and male predatoriness – everything being rooted, despite her long residence in London, in what James Joyce called the priest-ridden society of rural Ireland. My favourites are The Country Girls (1960), August Is a Wicked Month (1965), A Pagan Place (1970) and Zee & Co (1971).

Taylor, with her shrieks of joy, complete erotic confidence and enjoyment of fancy clothes and the high life, was a perfect embodiment of an Edna O’Brien heroine and personality – a woman hurt by love but never giving up on it, willing to risk agony for euphoria.

Edna once qualified as a pharmacist – so what makes her stories additionally piquant is that she knows exactly when to sprinkle a few drops of poison.


This story was from December 2020 issue. Subscribe Now