Edna O'Brien at 82: a luminous quality to her presence and her prose, elegant, erudite, perceptive, witty and wise, she charmed the EIBF audience, and was in turn delighted that so many (for it was a sell-out) had come to hear her. She has described herself as "ravenous for life" and "never lacking in energy or appetite", and this was evident in her recollections of a life lived, much of which she has written about in her memoir Country Girl.
Chairing the event, journalist Ruth Wishart described Edna O'Brien as "a weaver of magical prose, a consummate wordsmith", and in both the extract she read from her book and in her account of the process of writing it - "grounding memory, giving it its physicality" - she showed not only her eloquence but the depth of her thinking and feeling.
"Injuries and wrongs are very good for fiction," she said, recalling the painful events of her past, but she also credited her parents for giving her the gifts of stories and storytelling, even though her childhood lacked books (in the village where she grew up there was a single copy of Rebecca, loaned out by the page - but not consecutively), and the absence of the printed word didn't stifle the young Edna's latent creativity. Fueling both her imagination and her romantic sensibilities were a disparate collection of influences, she told us, beginning with "Our Lord - the unattainable, heroic, sacrificial," then moving on to Count Dracula, "all sweeping black", as portrayed by a group of travelling players which came to her village in rural Ireland, and then she dicovered Heathcliff: "not a practical man who paid the rent and grew potatoes...".
Navigating what she referred to as the minefield that is biography, she has compressed "80 years of turmoil" into her book, concentrating on "attachment, love, betrayal, debt - our inner life is racked by these concerns". On writing itself, "I leave the real world outside the door when I write," she says, and "keep the child within as far as any creative work is concerned, but keep the parent there as well".
~~~~~The Love Object: Selected Stories of Edna O'Brien will be published in early October.