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Edna O'Brien

'New Critical Perspectives'


Edited By Maureen O'Connor, Kathryn Laing and Sinead Mooney

The essays collected in Edna O’Brien: New Critical Perspectives illustrate the range, complexity and interest of O’Brien as a fiction writer and dramatist. Together they contribute to a broader appreciation of her work and to an evolution of new critical approaches, as well as igniting greater interest in the many unexplored areas of her considerable oeuvre.

The contributors who include new and established scholars in the field of O’Brien criticism, are Rebecca Pelan, Maureen O’Connor, Michelle Woods, Bertrand Cardin, Ann Norton, Eve Stoddard, Michael Harris, Loredana Salis, Shirley Peterson, Patricia Coughlan, Sinéad Mooney, and Mary Burke.

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1 |Reflections on a Connemara Dietrich

1 | Reflections on a Connemara Dietrich


Rebecca Pelan

Edna O’Brien’s most recent novel, In the Forest (2002), is based on actual murders that took place in County Clare in 1994.1 In a prominent and highly critical review of the novel, Irish Times journalist Fintan O’Toole stated that:

The hepatitis C scandal, Bloody Sunday and the career of Charles Haughey are all major historical and political issues, which have been dramatized recently. But Edna O’Brien’s new book, which tells the story of the murder of Imelda Riney, her son Liam and Father Joe Walsh, has broken an unspoken rule and crossed the boundary into private grief (50).

O’Toole’s main problem with O’Brien’s use of the factual material of the murders rests on what he sees as a very clear distinction between public and private meaning: Bloody Sunday, the hepatitis C scandal, and the career of Charles Haughey are all in the public realm, says O’Toole, while the murders of Riney and the others, although occupying the same territory in O’Brien’s novel between the real and the imagined, constitute an example of unethical intrusion into the private realm: ‘They [the murders] were a dreadful catastrophe visited on innocent people by a disturbed, deranged man. They did not and do not have a public meaning’ (50). Even in an Irish literary context, O’Toole can find no redeeming aspect to O’Brien’s use of this private material. He cites both John Banville’s 1989 ←12 | 13→novel, The Book of Evidence, which was clearly inspired by...

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