O'Brien's family encouraged her to attend pharmacy school, but she left before finishing to marry an older writer, give birth to two sons, and publish, in 1960, her first novel. The book was burned by the priest, her family disgraced. 21 books later, she tells of the events, people, emotions, and landscape that imprint upon and enliven one lifetime.
O'Brien, in her 80s, may look like an icon and talk like an icon, but she writes like the thing itself, with prose that is scrupulous and lyrical, beautiful and exact ... The childhood section of Country Girl is littered with objects that were lost, or stolen, or given away, all of them remembered with great particularity ... O'Brien knows the precise emotional weight of objects, their seeming hopefulness and their actual indifference to those who seek to be consoled. She is in thrall to artifice, the way it holds desire.
O’Brien has had to be forgiven for being seductive both on and off the page; there is a price to be paid for being a beautiful woman who produces beautiful prose ... No one does yearning like Edna O’Brien, who here occasionally reminds us that the fulfilled life is not worth examining. Artifice thrills her, including physical artifice ... But the objects threaten to bury the inner life, as happens in O’Brien’s later chapters. Neither as crystalline nor as lyrical as the early ones, they bog down in bold names ... Any memoir that is any good must be better-proportioned than real life. This one is shapely in the curvaceous ways of longing and regret ...
The first couple of hundred pages of Country Girl are wonderful, the second 150 rather less so, but anyone who knows and loves her work, as I do, will want to read it from start to finish ... During the Swinging ’60s she knew just about everyone who was anyone, and though she protests that 'it baffles me how I came to know all these people,' much of her memoir from this point on is a chronicle of names and faces who need no introduction, though they certainly will a couple of decades down the road ... In the end, though, O’Brien returns to her true self and her indelible Irishness, the elements that have drawn readers to her work for more than half a century and will continue to do so for many years hence.