0192 | August is a Wicked Month – Edna O’Brien


Context: Read this while I waited for Barry to come and cut the church hedge with me. Incidentally, this is where I married Mrs Arukiyomi nearly 15 years ago.

After a few years of dedicated novel reading, I’ve come up with Arukiyomi’s Rule of Thumb. ART states that a novel’s profundity is likely to be inversely proportional to its length. This actually stands to reason. If a writer is gifted with genius, even simply ability, they need little space in which to demonstrate it. Like French cuisine, too much of a good thing is far too vulgar.

Over the years, I’ve brought you some pure examples of this. There was the pathos-ridden Seize the Day at only 127 pages and the ethereal To The Lighthouse at just under 200. Also proving the rule’s accuracy were Cloudsplitter at 768 pages and Underworld at 832 which were about 900 pages too long each and Atlas Shrugged which was 1200 pages of a mad woman’s ravings.

O’Brien’s is another novel which fits the rule pretty well. It’s only 169 pages long.

Ellen finds herself with some time on her hands and, like the old proverb, idle hands do the devil’s work. She throws caution to the wind in more ways than one as she embarks on a search for fulfilment.

The novel follows her timidly at first and then with abandonment as she aches with desperation to satisfy desires inside her that are heightened by the strangeness of her new circumstances.

All the way through, you’re captivated wondering what the result of all this will be and you feel very protective of her as she exposes herself to situations that test her ability to cope with life.

I felt such deep sympathy for Ellen, her lostness, her searching and the joys and pain she endures on its behalf. O’Brien, like fellow Irish writer Toibin, crafts her sentences very carefully so that your imagination is freed up to fill in the blanks yourself. I found it a very vivid book for all its simplicity.

The weather bureau forecast sun.

Leaves fell, she watched them drop off, curl down and lodge in a bed of grass, still heavy with moisture, they were falling all around her, simple and unceremonious; for a month or two at least, a cool and lovely autumn.

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  1. Just popped in to say that describing ATLAS SHRUGGED as “1200 pages of a mad woman’s ravings” made me laugh out loud. I endured THE FOUNTAINHEAD, but vowed not to torture myself further. Thanks for strengthening my vow.

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