The Love Object

By Edna O’Brien

(Little, Brown & Co,, $30, 544 pages)

Who is this author?

Now 84, Edna O’Brien, who grew up in the west of Ireland but has lived in London for a long time, is the much-praised author of The Country Girls Trilogy, The Light of Evening, Saints and Sinners, Country Girl and other books. In addition to being a consummate short story writer, she also is a novelist, memoirist, playwright and poet. Her many literary honors include a Lifetime Achievement Award in Irish Literature in 2009 and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award in 2011.

What is this book about?

The Love Object comprises 31 stories published from 1968 to 2011 and serves as a portrait of Ireland by one of its finest contemporary authors. Love, of family and in romantic attachments, coming of age, the effects of class differences on relationships, the need to escape the familiar and the homesickness that may result are among her favored themes, as this collection that spans more than 40 years clearly shows. The stories explore the ties that connect mothers and children, teachers and students, lovers and friends, and delineate the many forms of love: spiritual, nurturing, carnal, innocent. Thirty-one stories that explore the nature of love and of happiness are not too many – indeed, they may not be enough.

Why you’ll like it:                      

If you already are a fan of O’Brien’s writing, this book belongs on your shelves. If you are new to her work, it is the door to many hours of reading pleasure and stories that will stay with you. If you are Irish or love the work of Irish writers, it is a gift basket of insights and understanding. (And if you are not, it is still that basket of gifts.) O’Brien is a wonderful storyteller who uses humor and poignant observations to great effect. This collection confirms her place as one of the best of Ireland’s contemporary – and classic – writers.

What others are saying:

“The Love Object is less a catalog than a kind of humanist Rosary-and each bead, each story, is a prayer, a meditation, a supplication, a lament, a confession. We rub the hard beads between soft fingers, not as a gesture of intellectual decoding, but as an act of sensing, feeling our way into O’Brien’s created lives, the mysteries of common human experience, where the everyday is profound and gently affecting, and the profane becomes sacred,” says the  Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Library Journal’s starred review says: “Near the beginning of “A Rose in the Heart of Brooklyn” there appears the sentence “Why be a woman.” This question punctuated as a declaration disorients readers; it challenges their expectations while underscoring a sense of resignation or even defeat. Such brilliant ambiguities lie at the heart of the 31 stories in this anthology from Irish author O’Brien, widely hailed for her mastery of description and characterization. O’Brien’s depictions of people and the social and emotional forces that define the relationships between them are subtly and surprisingly evoked. In the classic title story, for example, a professional woman describes a passionate affair with a married man that eventually cools into a sad, bearable friendship. Most of the early stories focus on women and the ways power manifests itself in their relationships, most profoundly between mothers and daughters. Later stories, such as the brilliant “Shovel Kings” and “Inner Cowboy,” reveal the complex social politics governing how men interact. VERDICT O’Brien’s reputation as one of the greatest storytellers in modern literature is only strengthened by this volume’s publication. Highly recommended.”

Kirkus’ starred review says: “A career’s selection of stories to savor. These 31 stories by O’Brien, spanning some four decades, are brought together in the sort of volume meant to establish a legacy and win prizes. The Irish-raised, London-based author hasn’t been praised for her short stories with the same reverence as William Trevor or Alice Munro . . .  Perhaps her novels, memoir, and persona have distracted attention from her mastery of short fiction, which reveals itself over the course of this generous selection as the focus moves from Irish girlhood to the literary life in large, cosmopolitan cities. Not that these stories are necessarily autobiographical or that it even matters if they are. The power of the first-person narrative in a perfect, and perfectly wrenching, story such as “My Two Mothers” rings truer than a memoir might, as O’Brien describes a relationship with a mother who is somehow both lover and enemy, the breach caused when “I began to write,” the story itself a meditation on life, literature, and “being plunged into the moiling seas of memory.” Hers is not the sort of writing that indulges in what one story dismisses as “clever words and hollow feelings”; her stories ask impossibly difficult questions about the nature of love and the possibility of happiness, and they refuse to settle for easy answers. As she writes in “Manhattan Medley,” a tale of infidelity in a city and a world filled with it, “the reason that love is so painful is that it always amounts to two people wanting more than two people can give.” Beneath the veneer of sophistication in a story such as “Lantern Slides,” the emotional ravages are as deep as in the hardscrabble stories of rural Ireland. . . . this collection positions O’Brien among the literary heavyweights, where it confirms she belongs. “

In The New York Times, Dwight Garner writes: “The confidence and authority of Ms. O’Brien’s writing, and the humor and sexiness that flow through it, mark her as a figure at the top of the food chain. The Love Object, a new volume of her selected short stories, written between 1968 and 2011, consolidates this position. It’s a book of deep and complicated and sometimes rude pleasures…It’s tempting to remark that sex and class and vanity and disappointment are Ms. O’Brien’s central themes, but that’s a hollow statement—those are all of our themes, mine at least, and probably yours, too. What matters is how consistently observant she is about them, how her sentences ring and ring again. There are echoes of James Joyce’s stories and of William Trevor’s, but the sound is unmistakably her own.”

Publishers Weekly says: “O’Brien, who introduced an Irish female perspective to the 1960s literary landscape, has produced stories over the last half-century that resonate with charm and acerbity, lyricism and terseness, nostalgia and brute force. Her early stories depict an Ireland of isolated villages and poor mountain farms where, in a moment, dreams turn to hopelessness, innocence to shame. Autobiographical tales feature mothers recalling days in America, schoolgirls bristling at convent education, and country lasses escaping to London. In “Irish Revel,” a farm girl bicycles into town for a party only to find herself moving furniture and cooking dinner. In “Sister Imelda,” the title character returns from university lonely and apart, an exile “in the mind.” Spirited Eily of “A Scandalous Woman” ends up trapped in a spiritless marriage, and the protagonist of “The Conner Girls,” like Chekhovian figurines, are trapped by their own lack of will. . . .Men are mostly observed by women, as in “The Love Object,” which details a London divorcée’s affair with a married man. “Brother” depicts a particularly vicious man through his sister’s murderous eyes. “The Shovel Kings” shows sympathy for Irish laborers in England. John Banville’s introduction . . . highlights O’Brien’s technique as well as her Irish roots. The stories validate his admiration—O’Brien’s self-described gallery of “strange” and “sacrificial” Irish women is indispensable.”

“When O’Brien ranges farther into the lives of women and men, married and single, beyond the borders of Ireland, she describes longing and desire and the intricacies of love and adultery as keenly and memorably as any modern writer you’ll read…. The lyrical turnings of her quest for truth, the deftness of her sentences and the clinical eye she turns on the imprisoning values of her country hark back to Joyce, modern Ireland’s old artificer. All together, they make O’Brien the first female bard of the place she bitterly names as ‘a land of shame, a land of murder, and a land of sacrificial women.’ O’Brien’s 84 now, and eventually she herself will be gone. But her stories will linger – not just smoldering, but burning as fiercely as when they first appeared,” says NPR.

When is it available?

O’Brien’s book is on the shelves of the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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