Magazine article The Spectator

The Sunset Burns On

Magazine article The Spectator

The Sunset Burns On

Article excerpt

THE LIGHT OF EVENING by Edna O'Brien Weidenfeld, £14.99, pp. 272, ISBN 0297851330 . £11.99 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

That beautiful, untamed brunette (or was she a woman in Zee & Co. ? ) was once more fervid than Elizabeth Taylor in party mood.

Edna O'Brien at the age of 73, however, is a circumspect Titian, with a porcelain complexion and minimal maquillage. The rebellious country girl, who ran away from a village in County Clare, has been for many years a ladylike resident of London.

Or so she appears. One should not judge novelists by their appearance, perhaps, but her presence in her writing is so relentlessly pervasive that it is impossible not to notice the altered superficialities and wonder how she has changed inside.

She hasn't. Readers who loved her antiauthoritarian previous books are sure to love this one too. But though The Light of Evening is about an ill-starred maternal and filial relationship it is no elegiac swan song. O'Brien ardently expresses her undiminished capacity for unforgiveness.

She evidently feels the same as ever about most men, not only the Black and Tans.

She made her attitude to men especially clear in Night (1972), a Molly Bloomesque stream-of-consciousness novel about indignant frustration. Mary Hooligan, the most revealing of O'Brien's fictional alter egos, then toyed with the notion of collecting her unsatisfactory men's sperm in a little jar or test tube. 'I could have done a bit of experimentation, dabbled in the mysteries of botany. No knowing what might have emerged . . . .' Hooligan/O'Brien wrote, 'I lack the talent for instigating comedy, ' yet much of O'Brien's autobiographical fiction has been, and still is, ruefully comic in the traditional Hibernian style. …

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