In a conversation with The New Yorker and fellow writer Colum McCann, the Irish novelist speaks about the prolific movement.
Often described as the “grande dame of Irish literature”, Edna O’Brien has been putting prose to women's issues during her lengthy tenure as a writer.
When it was released in staunchly Catholic Ireland, her 1960 debut novel “The Country Girls” was banned for its depiction of female sexuality. Later additions to the trilogy, “The Lonely Girl” and “Girls in Their Married Bliss”, would also cause uproar in the mid 1960s as they were denounced, censored, and burnt for their frank descriptions of sex and sin. In fact, her first seven novels were all banned in Ireland as they were deemed too "scandalous".
The award-winning O’Brien, who emigrated to London early in her career, also portrayed the devastating journey of an under-age rape victim who travelled to England to get an abortion in 1996 novel “Down by the River”.
While her native country was historically unreceptive to her work, Co Clare native O'Brien gained international fame and notoriety for not only her command of the English language, but her beauty, her "exotic style", and presence on the literary scene.
Now 87-years-old, O’Brien was recently in New York to receive the PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature. The organization credited her as a writer who has “broken down social and sexual barriers for women.”
“I’m scattered because I’m happy.” — Edna O’Brien concludes a merry, airtight speech in New York on receipt of her PEN/Nabokov Award. pic.twitter.com/ukyCmS4ydg— Siobhán Brett (@siobhanbrett) February 21, 2018
Her fellow Irish novelist and life-long friend Colum McCann presented her with the accolade.
In a short profile with The New Yorker, the duo reminisced on times spent in New York, particularly at the Pearl Street pub, Ulysses’, which they would frequent with late Irish writer Frank McCourt.
On the subject of #MeToo movement, McCann “shook his head in wonderment” as he told O’Brien “You’ve been #MeToo-ing for the last fifty years.”
The literary doyenne nodded in agreement.
“I think it’s very laudable. But sometimes, with a cause, even a very just and necessary and visceral cause, it gets mixed in with what I call self-promotion, fashion, and a kind of straying from the gravity of the message. People are very mistrustful, aren’t they, of art and of poetry and of real writing? They much more go for a tweet and a twit—whatever.”
The Irish novelist Edna O’Brien has been named as the winner of the PEN/Nabokov award for achievement in international literature, for “the absolute perfection of her prose” and her “powerful voice”.— Anne O' Neill. (@ANNIEON) February 20, 2018
O’Brien’s most recent project is a novel called “Girl” inspired by the kidnapping of schoolgirls by Boko Haram. In fact, despite a recent hip operation, she has just returned from a trip to Nigeria for research purposes.
Read More: Edna O'Brien wins major literary award