1932–, Irish writer. Although she moved to London in 1954, her constant theme and recurring setting is Ireland. In richly sensual prose, O'Brien explores the dreams, failed marriages, doomed affairs, brief happiness, and ultimate disenchantment of individual women in her homeland's enclosed, sexually repressed culture, and her first seven books were once banned there. Her early works include a trilogy, The Country Girls
(1960), The Lonely Girl
(1962), and Girls in Their Married Bliss
(1964). Among her subsequent novels are Casualties of Peace
(1966), Johnny I Hardly Knew You
(1977), and The High Road
(1988). Her later novels, such as House of Splendid Isolation
(1994), Down by the River
(1997), and In the Forest
(2002), continue to focus on the vicissitudes of women's lives while treating larger themes of the Irish experience. The semiautobiographical Light of Evening
(2006), her 20th novel, features a version of her mother as a central character. The Little Red Chairs
(2016), her next novel, is partly set in Ireland but treats the wider world in the character of a Balkan war criminal. In Girl
(2019), she maintains her theme of women's suffering but focuses on a young woman in West Africa who is kidnapped, raped, and brutalized by Islamic fundamentalists. O'Brien also is known for her beautifully wrought short stories, which are collected in The Love Object
(1968), A Scandalous Woman
(1974), A Fanatic Heart
(1984), Lantern Slides
(1990), and Saints and Sinners
(2011), and selected from those collections in The Love Object
(2015). Other works include brief biographies of James Joyce (1999) and Byron (2009), essays, plays, and screenplays.
See her memoirs, Mother Ireland (1976) and Country Girl (2013); studies by G. Eckley (1974), B. Schrank (1998), A. Greenwood (2003), L. Colletta and M. O'Connor, ed. (2006), and K. Laing et al., ed. (2006).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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