Edna O’Brien, an Irish novelist and short-story writer whose works often revolve around the inner feelings of women, was born in Tuamgraney, County Clare, Ireland, on 15 December 1930, a place she would later describe as “fervid” and “enclosed.” O’Brien was the youngest child of “a strict, religious family” and was educated by the Sisters of Mercy. This led to a “suffocating” childhood which in turn led to rebellion against the stifling religion into which she was born. “It was very frightening and all pervasive. I’m glad it has gone.”
She read widely as a younger woman but it was when she learned that Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man was autobiographical that she began to see “where she might turn, should she want to write herself”. She realised that ‘unhappy houses are a very good incubation for stories.’
She published her first novel, The Country Girls, in 1960. This was the first of a trilogy of novels (later collected as The Country Girls Trilogy) which also included The Lonely Girl (1962) and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964). Shortly after their publication, these books were banned and, in some cases burned, in her native country due to their frank portrayals of the sex lives of their characters. She couldn’t have bought the resultant publicity.
She has won numerous awards, including a Kingsley Amis Award in 1962 for The Country Girls; the Yorkshire Post Book Award in 1970 for A Pagan Place, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 1990 for Lantern Slides. She won the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award with her collection Saints and Sinners, with adjudicator Thomas McCarthy referring to her as “the Solzhenitsyn of Irish life”. In 2009, she was honoured with a special lifetime achievement award – the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award – at a special ceremony for the year’s Irish Book Awards in Dublin. In 2006, O’Brien was appointed adjunct professor of English Literature in University College, Dublin.
Her most recent work, an autobiography, Country Girl, is published by Faber (2012).
Her works include:
The Country Girls Trilogy; August is a Wicked Month; Casualties of Peace;
A Pagan Place; Zee & Co; Night, A Novel; Johnny I Hardly Knew You;
Time and Tide; House of Splendid Isolation; Down by the River;
Wild Decembers; In the Forest; The High Road; The Light of Evening
A Scandalous Woman and Other Stories; Mrs Reinhardt and Other Stories;
Some Irish Loving; Returning; A Fanatic Heart; Lantern Slides
The Love Object; Saints and Sinners
She has also published a volume of poetry, On the Bone; James Joyce: A Biography;
a play entitled Haunted; Byron in Love: A Biography, and Mother Ireland — A Memoir.