Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

The little red chairs

Edna O'Brien, one of my favourite authors, now 84, has just written a new novel; THE LITTLE RED CHAIRS - her first in ten years - and as per the reviews, what a stunning piece of work it is. This audacious new work has been hailed as her masterpiece.

Beginning in a fictional small, isolated Irish town, a charismatic mystic and healer, Dr Vlad, arrives and mesmerises the people there with his spirituality and healing therapies. We find out quite soon, though, that he is a wanted war criminal who has committed the most appalling atrocities in the Balkans. To say that he is a thinly disguised Radovan Karadzic would be to exaggerate the extent of the disguise, but by making him a fictional character in a community that she understands intimately, O'Brien can explore his character and the consequences of his actions through fictional events and she paints a brilliant, disturbing portrait of an egocentric, self-deluding psychopath, and the woman ,Fidelma, who loves him.

The chairs of the title - 11,541 of them - were laid out in Sarajevo in 2012 to commemorate the casualities of the siege 20 years earlier. 
So spellbinding is the effect of O'Brien's narrative shifts in perspective that when an appalling act of violence occurs the reader is left reeling, wondering what could possibly follow. The answer, as Fidelma flees to London, sees O'Brien gifting her eloquence to the migrants and refugees along whom Fidelma now finds herself struggling to exist. Could anything be more topical for our troubled era?

With a third act taking place at The Hague in Holland, this is a novel that leaves an indelible impression, brilliantly written and fiercely humane. An astonishing work from a writer of 84 who first excited us with her THE COUNTRY GIRLS back in the 1960s. We have liked a lot of of her output since then as she explored facets of Irish and London life, in those novels, short stories, essays. 

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