So I decided that I was going to read Joyce’s Dubliners, Edna O’Brien’s The Love Object, and Ethel Rohan’s Out of Dublin in December and January. I was really looking forward to it, too. Truth be told, though, I didn’t feel like reading – at all – in January. I did start reading two short stories each day from The Love Object, but I didn’t finish it. I have read the first 21 stories out of 31, so my review will be about those 21 stories in overview.
There are some constants in Edna O’Brien’s stories, and there are some recurring themes.
Nature – be it a remote village in deep winter or seaside in the middle of a storm or a jarring urban city – sets an underlying tone in every story, it seems. Sometimes it plays a big role, sometimes it is more subtle in its existence. These stories are also about women. In most of the stories they are the protagonists and narrators. We see their hopes and fears and scars, their relationships to men and to other women, their serenity and insanity. The third permanent fixture in every story is the element of love. The love for family, for their village, for life, for traditions, for men, for women, for strangers. The passionate kind, the desperate, the platonic, the nostalgic, the sorrowful, the fanatic, the exhausting, the dying kind. Some stories focus on one of these kinds of love while others show the evolution of feelings.
Edna O’Brien’s stories contain a lot of contrasting between country/city, different aspects of child-parent relationships, religion – some embracing, some running away from, some just as undercurrent – women hurt by men or by the patriarchal world.
Not all of her stories are set in Ireland but there are a few that focus on the Irish – the land, the people and their way of thinking. Some stories are connected, such as Number Ten and Mrs. Reinhardt, and some characters (e.g. Long John from Irish Revel and Tough Men) appear in more than one story. Some stories have a lot of names and in others we never get to know the narrator’s name.
I especially found the stories Irish Revel, A Scandalous Woman, The Rug, Sister Imelda, A Rose in the Heart of New York, The Love Object, Number Ten, Mrs. Reinhardt, What a Sky and Paradise to be touching and heart-breaking. Some women in these stories never realize their potential, or stop to even think about what they want in their lives. Others are bound by religion and tradition in Ireland, while yet others are torn apart by them. Two stories – A Rose in the Heart of New York and What a Sky, deal with the estrangement of a parent and a child, and the difficulty to overcome it. The first story of this collection, Irish Revel, is the most uplifting one (so far) and also the most vivid one – I can almost smell the sharp wintry air of rural Ireland, feel the warmth from the fire in the room and from the alcohol in the drink, and relate to Mary’s confused uncomfortableness.
The Love Object is not a short story collection that contains only a few good stories and a sea of mediocre ones. Its stories are not repetitive or non-discriptive. I truly believe that each story has something to give to you – something to mull over, some feeling, some insight. It is very character-driven but not boring or “slow”. Every story has some closure to it even though it can be a really sad one.