Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Love Object by Edna O'Brien

The Love Object by Edna O'Brien  (1969, 172 pages, a collection of short stories)

March 1 to March 31

Edna O'Brien 

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Edna O'Brien's (1930) first novel, Country Girls (1960) is often credited with shaking the Irish literary world out of a sexually repressive atmosphere.   The book shocked many by its frank depiction of female sexual desires in a time and place where any sex out side of marriage by a woman was intensely looked down upon. Only twenty years before The Country Girls was published a woman deemed "of low morals" could be placed in a mental hospital.   The Love Object is her first collection of short stories and I can see it shocking most conservative readers, even more so as it was written by a woman.   There are seven stories in the collection.   I will post briefly on four of them They do contain very graphic, maybe not by today's standards, sexual descriptions by women narrators and depict promiscuous activity in a society dominated by the Catholic Church who condemned all such actions.   Men prior to marriage either abstained, at once married a woman they got pregnant  or resorted to prostitutes.

"The Love Object", the title story, gets the collection off to an exciting start.  It is told in the first person by a woman, a well known TV announcer.  She meets and falls in love with a much older married man and begins an affair with him.  She is separated from her husband.   She meets him through her work.  His wife is thirty, his third wife, just like she is.   He takes her out to dinner and they have sex.   She wants to start an affair with him but he tells her he will just see her once a month or so as he does not want to start a cheap affair with her (I thought, good line!).   She becomes obsessed with him.  The first sexual scenes are shocking even now as the woman seems so refined and dignified and I guess I was not accepting it in an Irish short story from so long ago.   We see the affair run it course.  it ends not in hatred but in a kind of mutual boredom.  This is a very good acutely observed story and I very much enjoyed reading it, and not just for the sex!

"An Outing" is another story with the power to shock, not for anything explicit that happens but because the very unaccepted actions of a woman married for a very long time, in a quite settled routine.   Mrs Farley worked as a main, cleaning up houses.  Her husband was a boiler maker.   They have no children, she has miscarried three times.   Mrs Farley passes a shop one day and sees a three piece furniture set that she really fancies and makes a deposit on it.  The idea behind it is to try to make her house look very nice on the day Mr. Farley goes on the annual company outing.   Mrs Farley has fallen totally in love with a married man, really just by accident.   The very chaste romance is beautifully told.  In a way I felt a bit ashamed of Mrs Farley as her husband does not seem a bad sort but we can see her life is totally dull.   "An Outing" is a very good story that will make those in long term marriages think a bit about the potentially chilling effects of to much sameness and boredom.  

"Cords" starts out with a woman leaving the family farm, after reminding her husband what to feed the hens and the turkeys, to visit her daughter Claire in London. She lives in Ireland with her husband and it will be her first time to fly.  Her daughter sent her the ticket.    She was worried about her daughter as she had lost her faith "and she mixed with queer people and wrote poems.  If it was stories one could detect the sin in them, but these poems made no sense at all and therefore seemed more wicked".  Claire picks her up at the airport and the reunion is very touch if a bit stiff.  There is a very interesting dinner party where the daughter meets some of Claire's London friends.  It brings out the very real problems between the mother and daughter.  Things go from bad to worse and the mother returns after only six days instead of the planned seven-teen, saying she is worried about the turkeys and her husband.  This is another very well done story.

"Revel" is the story of Mary.  Mary works on the farm in Ireland and does all the odd jobs.   Life was hard on the mountainy farm.    She is seventeen and is going to her first party.  At first her mother does not want to allow her to go but Mary and begs and she is allowed to go because the hostess is an important woman.  Mary is so thrilled and her mother lets her wear the dress that came from America.   Imagine Mary's sadness when she learns she was expected  to work on the party arrangements before the event begins.  The party is an unmitigated bore with only really stupid acting lads there.  Mary had been expecting a lad she fancied to be there.  Mary ends up having to serve everyone their food.  The events at the party are brilliant depicted.  Simply another wonderful story.

There are three other stories in the collection, all centering on the lives of women and girls.  This is a first rate collection of short stories very much worth reading.

In the interests of full disclosure, I was provided a free copy of this book by the publisher.
"Carmilla, why don't you just admit  it,
I am your Love Object"-Rory

I have previously posted on Edna O'Brien's novel August is a Wicked Month.

"Nice stories but tame compared
to my life"-Carmilla

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