Wednesday, May 7, 2008

June 16: The Light of Evening

by Edna O'Brien

Discussion leader: Candace Plotsker-Herman

Plot Summary: From her Dublin hospital bed, an ailing elderly woman recalls the important events and people of her life, from her emigration to America in the 1920s, to her Irish marriage, to motherhood, as she awaits a visit from her estranged daughter, Eleanora. (NoveList database)

Biography of Edna O'Brien

Reviews for this title:

Publishers Weekly Review: /* Starred Review */ In her 20th work of fiction, O'Brien meditates with haunting lyricism on the lure of home and the compulsion to leave. Dilly, 78 and widowed, lies in a Catholic hospital in rural Ireland waiting for her elder daughter, Eleanora, to arrive at her bedside. In gorgeous stream-of-consciousness from the masterful O'Brien (Lantern Slides), Dilly recalls her early years as well as decades of misunderstanding and conflict with Eleanora. Dilly's past unfolds in fits and starts: she leaves her mother behind in a small village in Ireland to seek a better life in 1920s Brooklyn, returning after a failed affair and the death of her brother, Michael. She promptly marries the rich Cornelius; they settle at Rusheen, his dilapidated family estate, and have two children. For Eleanora's story, O'Brien shifts to the third person: the daughter moves to England, marries an older novelist and begins a successful career as a writer before divorcing him and embarking on a series of affairs with married men, a life that Dilly both envies and scorns. The award-winning O'Brien evokes the cruelty of estrangement while allowing her characters to remain sympathetic and giving them real voice. (Oct.) --Staff (Reviewed June 26, 2006) (Publishers Weekly, vol 253, issue 26, p26)

Library Journal Review: A celebrated Irish author with 18 works of fiction (e.g., Night; Lantern Slides) to her credit, O'Brien here weaves strands of an Irish countrywoman's life, most compellingly when following Dilly's temporary immigration to New York. There, readers encounter a dazzling comic passage paying homage to James Joyce's famous Christmas dinner scene in the short story ???The Dead.??? The book's second half takes a semiautobiographical turn, following Dilly's daughter Eleanora from her rural Irish childhood, through her disastrous marriage to a foreigner of whom her family disapproves, and eventually to her development into a controversial writer who lives abroad but never leaves the subject of her Irish homeland far behind. Past and present interweave, as letters and journal entries detail an intricate Celtic knot of a mother/daughter relationship, relaying love, worry, disappointment, and agonizing miscomprehensions. But while the author writes lyrically with great narrative skill and the psychological acuity her fans expect, this tale of the convoluted bonds between mother and daughter is ultimately a bit too long and overwrought to match the best of her work. For larger collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/06.]???Laurie Sullivan, Sage Group International, Nashville --Laurie Sullivan (Reviewed August 15, 2006) (Library Journal, vol 131, issue 13, p72)

Kirkus Reviews A novel of powerful, complicated emotions and rapturous writing suffers from its plot's soap-opera sentimentality.O'Brien (Wild Decembers, 2000, etc.) shows how much of herself she has invested in this material in the book's dedication: "For My Mother and My Motherland." Languishing on her deathbed from a disease she has done her best to deny, Delia "Dilly" Macready comes to terms with her life in general and her relationship with her daughter in particular. That daughter, Eleanora, is a novelist who long ago departed her native Ireland for London, where she has become successful and notorious by writing books that scandalize those she left behind, blurring the lines between life and art, memory and invention. Thus the novel encourages the reader to identify Eleanora with the London-based author, whose work has generated controversy in her homeland (and who drops the third-person references to the "E" character for the first-person "I" in the novel's final stages). Yet the story belongs to Dilly, and only she comes fully alive within these pages. The richest section recounts Eleanora's young adulthood in America, after she had left her mother for the promise of a new world, only to find that her nationality and inexperience have consigned her to maid's work. It is there that she meets the man she will love for the rest of her life, though circumstances and miscommunication have her return home and marry a dutiful Irishman. Her two children are even less lucky in love, as Eleanora, whose true passion is literature, marries and divorces an older, domineering man with no redeeming qualities (leaving the reader to wonder what she ever saw in him), and her henpecked brother and shrewish wife scheme to inherit Dilly's once prosperous property.Through the twists of blood ties, O'Brien explores the profound ambivalence of the mother-daughter relationship, but the land and the climate seem more fully developed as characters than do many of the one-dimensional humans. (Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2006)

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