A Former Country Girl Catches Fire In 'The Love Object' Edna O'Brien's first novel was burned in the small Irish village of her birth. The Love Object collects more than 30 of her fiery tales of religion and repression in "a land of sacrificial women."


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A Former Country Girl Catches Fire In 'The Love Object'

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Irish writer Edna O'Brien has been wowing readers for more than half a century. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, says her new book is no different. It's a short story collection called "The Love Object," and Alan recommends you keep it in a place of honor, where you'd put any work by Alice Munro or James Joyce.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: When Edna O'Brien's first novel, "The Country Girls," was published in 1960, her family and neighbors in the small farming village in the West of Ireland where she was born tossed copies of that book into a bonfire. Reading the 31 stories in "The Love Object," selected from her short fiction published since then, you can see how writing about the sexual awakening of young women in rural Ireland would unnerve the status quo. But it's the intimacy of the timeless circumstances of her protagonists that serve as both snapshots of decades gone by and life today.

O'Brien's gift for detail helps her to make distinctive characters - various young women and old, farm folk or pub owners or landed gentry, all from this particular region. She can describe a dresser in a friend's house so finely, you can almost reach out and touch it or the recipe for a dessert for a wedding that you can nearly taste or the life cycles of lilacs in a windowsill - the big, moist bunches, as she puts it, with the lovely, cool green leaves and then a wilting display - and following that, the seeds in pools all over the sill and the purple itself much sadder and more dolorous than when first plucked off the trees.

O'Brien's not a grand plot maker, but the lyrical turnings of her quest for truth and the deftness of her sentence-making and the clinical eye she turns on the customs and values of the country that gave birth to her harks back to James Joyce, modern Ireland's old artificer, and makes O'Brien the modern bard of the country she bitterly names as a land of shame, a land of murder and a land of sacrificial women.

She's 84 now, and in a decade or less, she herself will probably be gone. Her words will linger, though, not just smoldering, but burning as ferociously as when they first appeared in print.

SIEGEL: The book is "The Love Object" by Edna O'Brien. Alan Cheuse had our review. His latest book is "Prayers For The Living."

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