Edna O’Brien’s “The Country Girls” is the first in the trilogy telling the life and times of Kate and Baba, two girlfriends from country situations who get to the city trying to move away from the tangled mores of Irish family, church, education, and politics of the mid twentieth century. The second in the trilogy is “Girl with Green Eyes,” first published as “The Lonely Girl.” The third, received by critics at the time with the least enthusiasm, is “Girls in Their Married Bliss.”
Kate and Baba must work jobs, find a place to live, take care of themselves, all on their own. So what, we might ask. Those might be good problems to have. Indeed they are, and even better if the girls survive – the attempts to shame, the gentlemen who come into their lives, the petty but deep economic exploitations, trusts and distrusts of one another and their trysts.
“I work in a delicatessen shop in Bayswater and go to London University at night to study English. Baba works in Soho, but not in a strip-tease club, as she had hoped. She’s learning to be a receptionist in a big hotel. We share a small bed-sitting room, and my aunt sends a parcel of butter every other week” (212, “Girl with Green Eyes”).
At the time of their publications, in the early 1960’s, O’Brien’s books were banned, her family shamed. “The Country Girls” is dedicated to her mother, though it’s doubtful her mother ever read it. It wasn’t enough for the Irish censor board to simply ban the books – people burnt them in public shamings, and priests denounced them from the pulpit. It’s doubtful any of them read any of it, except maybe the pages someone said were rife with you know what, and God bless and keep you if you don’t know.
But O’Brien persisted, her work redeemed itself and a generation of girls. “My whole body was impatient now. I couldn’t sit still. My body was wild from waiting” (186, “The Country Girls”).
But redemption might not be sufficient for those who want to write their own lives, who want to be reborn every day: “Not long ago Kate Brady and I were having a few gloomy gin fizzes up London, bemoaning the fact that nothing would ever improve, that we’d die the way we were – enough to eat, married, dissatisfied” (7, “Girls in Their Married Bliss”).
My Penguin paperback copies are all three editions from 1981 (they were originally published in 1960, 1962, and 1964). Many editions have been printed, some with maybe better cover designs.
…from my Goodreads “short reviews of old personal library books.”