Happy Birthday, Edna O’Brien, born 15 December 1930.
Edna O’Brien: Five Quotes
- Countries are either mothers or fathers, and engender the emotional bristle secretly reserved for either sire.
- When anyone asks me about the Irish character, I say look at the trees. Maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious.
- In our deepest moments we say the most inadequate things.
- Writers are always anxious, always on the run—from the telephone, from responsibilities, from the distractions of the world.
- Writers really live in the mind and in hotels of the soul.
Edna O’Brien: On Reading
I am a slow reader, because I want to savour and recall what I read. The excitement and sense of discovery is not the same as in those days when I would get thoroughly wrapped up in Vanity Fair or War and Peace. Now I set myself a task of reading one great book each year. Last year I read Bleak House, which I think is the greatest English novel—I read a few pages a day.
But one’s taste changes so much. I mentioned Scott Fitzgerald, whom I read, oh, so lovingly and thoroughly! I loved Tender Is the Night and The Great Gatsby, which is a flawless novel. So I can say that he was one of my early influences.
But now I know that fundamentally I respond to European literature in all its dark ramifications. I think the Russians are unsurpassable. Of course Joyce did something extraordinary: he threw out the entire heritage of English literature—language, story, structure, everything—and created a new and stupendous work.
But for emotional gravity, no one can compare with the Russians. When I first read Chekhov’s short stories, before I saw his plays, I knew I had heard the voice that I loved most in the whole world. I wrote to my sister, ‘Read Chekhov—he does not write, he breathes life off the page.’ And he was, and still is, my greatest influence, especially in short-story writing.
Edna O’Brien is an Irish novelist, playwright, poet and short story writer. Her first novel, The Country Girls, was banned, burned and denounced from the pulpit, in Ireland. She lives in London. Her awards include a Kingsley Amis Award for The Country Girls, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Lantern Slides, and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award with her collection Saints and Sinners. In 2006, O’Brien was appointed adjunct professor of English Literature in University College, Dublin.
Excerpt on reading from The Paris Review
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