Paperback review: Country Girl: A Memoir, By Edna O'Brien


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The Independent Culture

Raised in rural County Clare and educated in a convent, Edna O'Brien fled to swinging London to become a novelist. Her frank, autobiographical debut, The Country Girls (1960), caused outrage back in Ireland, but O'Brien considered it a necessary step in her “daring emancipation”.

This memoir tells of how, in England, she was drawn into glamorous circles, and at times the momentum of the narrative slows under the weight of all the dropped names (Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton, Paul McCartney). But one never doubts the seriousness of O'Brien's commitment to literature. Now in her eighties, she has given us a warm, witty and profound account of what it means to devote oneself to writing and reading – pursuits the author calls the “two intensities that have buttressed my whole life”.