Sunday, August 30, 2015
The Light of Evening by Edna O'Brien
Separated by miles and differing moral outlooks, a mother and daughter will never break their bond
Dilly, an old woman from rural Ireland, falls ill and reluctantly allows herself to be admitted to the hospital in Dublin. Between flashbacks of Dilly’s long ago stay in Brooklyn working as a housemaid, and snippets of her daughter’s Eleanora’s doomed marriage to an old crab, we see Dilly anxiously awaiting a visit from the beloved Eleanora, a famous writer. However, the visit is ultimately disappointing as Eleanora soon rushes away to be with her unfeeling lover, mistakenly leaving behind her journal in which she beautifully describes her conflicted feelings about her mother.
This novel is, like some others I have been reading lately, all about the voice. And what a voice it is. The actual warp and woof of the writing, the description of landscapes and sexual encounters, is absolutely stupendous. Long sensual sentences with lots of commas alternate with homey country talk. The passionate people and their dialogue. No one is buttoned down here. Character is built through dialogue. The Brooklyn sections contain a big Irish Christmas dinner scene reminiscent (deliberately no doubt) of Portrait of the Artist. This is also a very credible historical novel, depicting the Irish immigrant experience. I learned a lot.
But I wonder, despite the sensual beauty of the senses and rush of emotion, can Edna O’Brien do plots? I have read several Edna O’Brien books and they all have the same plot. (Which I understand to be the plot of Edna O’Brien’s life.) And in this one, a key plot twist (the mother reading the honest journal) comes about pretty hokily. But I enjoyed this so much I am going to seek out some of O'Brien's books that are about something other than O’Brien's life.