Sunday 4 December 2016

Edna on sex, history and the hunks

John Spain Books Editor

Published 05/02/2010 | 05:00

Award-winning writer Edna O'Brien (left) and actress Brenda Blethyn on stage at Dublin's Gaiety Theatre yesterday before rehearsals
of O'Brien's play 'Haunted', which opened last night.
Award-winning writer Edna O'Brien (left) and actress Brenda Blethyn on stage at Dublin's Gaiety Theatre yesterday before rehearsals of O'Brien's play 'Haunted', which opened last night.

Edna O'Brien was being coy about her forthcoming memoir at the opening of her new play in the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin last night. The publicity for the book says it will detail her encounters with Marlon Brando, Jackie Onassis and Bill Clinton, among other famous people.

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Publishers concluded deals for the book worth a large six-figure sum this week. The memoir is titled 'Country Girl', after O'Brien's famous 'Country Girls' trilogy.

O'Brien's account of her life is seen as one of the great literary stories of the past century, given her involvement with so many leading figures, from Samuel Beckett to Gerry Adams.

O'Brien was in Dublin for the opening night of 'Haunted', the play she wrote for the actress Brenda Blethyn. And she was being as mysterious as ever when asked about how much she would be revealing in her memoir.

Is it going to be a tell-all about the famous people she has met? "It will tell my story from my childhood in Clare and it will include all the things that have happened to me since then in my life that have mattered," she said.

What about Marlon Brando, for example? "I met him at a dinner and we had a very interesting talk. Then he came to my house."

And? But she is not saying any more. "I'm not telling you . . . that's for my book," she says, with her flirtatious laugh. She will be 80 in December, but she still has that allure.

What about Jackie Onassis? Jackie contacted O'Brien when her play about Virginia Woolf was in New York and O'Brien describes her as having a "a certain giddiness late at night".

Burned

Interest in O'Brien's memoir is likely to be intense, not least because of her reputation as a writer who defied Catholic Ireland's claustrophobic attitude to sex and escaped to a life of freedom in London. The 'Country Girls' trilogy caused a sensation, and her books were not only banned but burned by a priest in her native Clare. Over the years, as well as building a reputation as a gifted literary writer, she continued to explore themes of female sexuality in her many novels.

As a young woman in Dublin, she got to know writer Ben Kiely among others. She married Ernest Gebler, also a writer, and moved to London where, after her divorce, her circle of friends ranged from the actor TP McKenna to the singer Bryan Ferry. She also knew Samuel Beckett. And she starred in a movie with Lee Van Cleef. She is also friendly with Gerry Adams.

The list of people she has known seems endless. So will the memoir be a literary book or an intimate account of her life? "One doesn't exclude the other," she says.

Irish Independent

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