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Merle

Merle

The Country Girls

The Country Girls - Edna O'Brien This is one of those literary books that I appreciate, but that never really grabbed my attention. It's so similar to my reaction to [b:Now in November|267115|Now in November|Josephine Winslow Johnson|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1390983337s/267115.jpg|258987], also a book I was hoping to really like, that comparing the two is the only way I can explain it. Both are short but well-written literary books with a strong sense of place, grounded in the natural world--the Irish setting here is particularly vivid and beautifully described, both visually and culturally, and I enjoyed all the little household details. Both feature a cast of complex secondary characters, including the difficult, passionate sister or best friend for whom our narrator is a foil.

Both also feature dull, unprepossessing (though very observant) first-person narrators, so that the more interesting characters are seen only sideways, through the narrator's story. And neither has a strong plot--that's especially true here. There are things that happen, but there's no plot in the sense of having a throughline, a method. It's notable that what the blurb says this book is about--two country girls making their way in Dublin--doesn't happen till about 2/3 of the way through the book. For awhile it's a story about a 14-year-old girl living on a decaying Irish farm with a collapsing family; then it's a story about two frenemies at a miserable convent school; then it's the Dublin story. The narrator, Caithleen, has a creepy flirtation with an older man that seems to be building up to something, and then.... doesn't. Caithleen is a doormat with no healthy relationships--her friendship with the vicious Baba often seems like Stockholm syndrome--and she doesn't grow or change by the end.

Speaking of the end, it's awfully abrupt; perhaps the entire trilogy is meant to be read as one book (I actually had the omnibus from the library, and that seems to be how it's generally packaged these days), but I can't say I have much desire to read on. At the same time, I don't disagree with the praise others have given it. So, 3.5 stars. And if you loved this, I recommend checking out Now in November.