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Hanne, reading on Cloud 9

Avid book reader. Lover of fantasy, contemporary fiction, short stories and non-fiction. This blog is a work in progress - and it will likely always be that way.

Review: Girl with Green Eyes

Girl with Green Eyes - Edna O'Brien

This trilogy was banned in Ireland when it was first published in the sixties. If the first novel wasn’t fully clear on the reason why, the second one will make that very clear: a young girl living together with an older and previously married man, whose wife is still alive. As the priest who comes to preach on Kate indicates: ‘divorce is the biggest sin in the world’. A man drunk and aggressive is normal, it’s just because of the bad climate. But divorce is a sin bigger than words and living together unmarried is the ‘the path to moral damnation’.


O’Brien still played nice in book 1, but in this one she is pulling out all the stops, attacking the repressive, catholic world she grew up in. Our narrator, Kate, is now a young girl who left her village behind and is living in Dublin, rooming together with a friend from her village. Going out in town, they meet many boys and men, but Eugene captures Kate’s interests – and yes, becomes the previously mentioned ‘path to damnation’ for her.


I like the perspective the story is told in: it clearly attacks the hypocrisy of the ruling catholic Irish world at that time (and not only Ireland might I add), but at the same time it doesn’t colour Kate in a rosy light either. The girl makes some pretty stupid choices, and the author doesn’t try to deny that. They are all Kate’s mistakes to make though. We can help her, but we shouldn’t leave her behind for making different choices, nor should we hunt her down.
If only religion was that human in the sixties. A book like this makes me wonder how many lives it ruined, how many people it isolated after they were swept up by a number of events, and couldn’t tell what way their life was going.


“The sea was calm, the waves breaking calmly over the boulders and a strong, unpleasant smell of ozone in the air. I could not tell whether the tide was coming in or out. It is always hard to tell at first.”


This book was originally titled ‘the Lonely Girl’. I do not know (I also didn’t try to research it) why it changed title, and whether it was the publishers or O’Brien herself who made the change. I do think the first title covers the book so much better.


“I could see his brown eyes as I had last seen them in the hotel, full of sadness, and full of knowledge that I was not the girl he had imagined me to be. A stone, he’d said. I thought of stones bursting open in the hot sun and other stones washed smooth by a river I knew well.”