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The Country Girls by Edna O'Brien

The Country Girls is a thrilling story about two country girls named Kate Brady and Baba Brennan. Kate Brady's mother is forever worrying about Kate's father who is an alcoholic. They have a workman named Hickey who has been working for twenty years. Baba Brennan lives with her mother Martha Brennan and her father Mr. Brennan. Her mother spends most of her time dreaming about a social life. Mr. Brennan's occupation is a vet.

Whenever Kate Brady's father is drunk, Kate is at risk of being beaten up. When suddenly Kate's mother is drowned from a capsizing boat, the farm has to be sold. Hickey has to leave and Kate and Baba are sent to a convent boarding school. Just before they leave for boarding school Kate falls in awe of a man she knows only as "Mr. Gentleman." Baba gets them expelled from boarding school, as she reckoned it would kill her. They then clear off to Dublin where they stay in lodgings. Kate gets a job in a grocery shop and Baba goes to college.

They should have had a great life but because neither of them were looking for the right relationships they were always on the outside looking in. Babs wouldn't settle for normal happy relationships because like her mother she was constantly pursuing her false image of sophistication and wealth. Kate couldn't have a normal relationship because she had been traumatised by her tyrannical, violent, losing father and her subservient mother who then abandoned her through death.

The setting of the story is an Irish "boghole" near Limerick. It is a small grey country village, nowhere very exciting.

Edna O'Brien brings in some of the relevant characters in a shadowy way. A prime example of this is that the vet is always referred to as "Mr. Brennan." The first significant male relationship Kate has is with a man whose name is omitted and he is generally referred to as "Mr.Gentleman." We learn his facial features in great detail but scarcely anything of his character or his feelings. This shows the unreality of the relationship.

It is written through the eyes of young girls giving you lurid descriptions of things like the ashtray of cigarette butts for example, and of female underwear, stockings and brassieres. The story rattles along almost as though you were saying your timetables. This is in harsh contrast to the tragedy and rawness of the theme.

The plot appears superficial in places. My interpretation of the plot is that the girls thought they could escape by going to Dublin but, of course, they can't escape their roots and take their inner selves with them.

Entertainment value
The style would keep you reading but the story wouldn't. Edna O'Brien is an entertaining writer. She tends to avoid the temptation to dwell on the misery but moves you on to the next drama.

Reviewed by-
Tracy Davies,
2nd year,
Scoil Mhuire,

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