Saints and Sinners (Anglais) Broché – 2 février 2012
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Revue de presse
'Extraordinary ... Saints and Sinners proves yet again that [O'Brien] is ahead of the curve.' -- Evening Standard
'Subversion is what catapulted Edna O'Brien to literary stardom an incredible half century ago and, at the top of her game, she can still cut the ground from under your feet.' -- The Times
'THE grande dame of Irish letters' latest collection of short stories - 11 pearls beautifully strung - evokes both verbally and visually the grace and fine poise of the likes of Patrick Kavanagh, whose weary stoicism finds perfect balance in writing of Ireland "it would never be spring, always autumn / After a harvest always lost." ... The lyrical and moving melancholy behind these potent themes is illuminated by O'Brien's lightness of touch. She exhibits a storyteller's memory for the small detail and a confiding narrative stride which makes for joyous reading.' --Scotland on Sunday
'[The stories] command an impressive breadth and reach, communicating volumes to the reader even when O'Brien's characters say very little.' --Sunday Business Post
Présentation de l'éditeur
A woman walks the streets of Manhattan and contemplates with exquisite longing the precarious affair she has embarked on, amidst the grandeur and cacophony of the cityscape; a young Irish girl and her mother are thrilled to be invited to visit the glamorous Coughlan's but find - for all the promise of their green gorgette, silver shoes and fancy dinner parties - they leave disappointed; an Irishman in north London retraces his life as a young lad with his mates digging the streets and dreaming of the apocryphal gold, an outsider both in Ireland and England, yet he carries the lodestar of his native land.
A collection characterised by all of Edna O'Brien's trademark lyricism, powerful evocations of place and a glorious and an often heart-breaking grasp of people and their desires and contradictions.
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You'll never get more black Irish than this, some without much humor, other with very dark and wonderful humor. And I write that as a compliment to the rich voice of this remarkable author. I have to confess that this is the first time I have read anything by Edna O'Brien. I must reform myself and read much more.
The opening story, "Shovel Kings," takes the reader into the darkness of life both outside--specifically London--and inside Ireland, where life is sustained, if at all, by drink where these characters live in poverty and suffer from abuse, told to the narrator, awaiting an appointment with a psychotherapist, by Rafferty, an exile of sorts whose life could be summarized by this sentence in the story: "Nothing was wrong...but nothing was right, either." I would say there was much that was wrong. As for the title, well it summarizes the existential lot of the Irish men who came to labor, for naught, in London.
In "Sinners," aging Delia has "lost that most heartfelt rapport that she once had with God," her prayers coming only from her lips, not "from deep within anymore." Delia's is an abode--that is also a small bed and breakfast--much in need of refreshing: wallpapers, paints, towels...everything. She is the mother of five, one dead, but they are like the wallpapers, faded images only, no longer present in her lonely life. Hers had not been a happy marriage, of course! Few are apparently in Edna O'Brien's works. Is there any happiness in any Irish households? one wonders when reading these brilliant stories.
In this story a family of three are staying over, and Delia projects so much upon them. But I am not going to tell you what. But if you are not laughing when you read this, then you have so sense of humor. None!
In "Madame Cassandra" Millie speaks in first person outside the caravan carrying Madame Cassandra, the gypsy seer, who appears not to wish to met with Millie--and the reader soon learns why. Millie reveals this about her past: "I cannot tell you what a relief it is to be here...to be able to let off a little steam." A little steam??!! Oh, no, this is a woman filled with wrath. And, of course, the sbuject of her discourse, filled with allusions to various mythologies, is her errant husband.
Okay! When these two sentences soon reveal themselves in "Black Flowers," "She didn't know him very well. She had volunteered to give painting lessons in the prison in the Midlands where he was serving a long sentence," then you know you're in for a good read.
I could write a lot more about this collection of stories, but hopefully this is enough of a taste so that you will want to order a copy. And I know two people who will be getting this as a gift from me!
O'Brien was born in 1930 in Country Clare, Ireland. The years immediately after her birth are ones O'Brien characterizes as a time full of "economic despair." The financial misfortunes of the O'Brien family was something that particularly irked Edna's mother. For her parents had not always been poor. In fact, Edna's father's side of the family had once been a prominent and wealthy family from Boston, but according to Edna the family wealth was "frittered" away.
One gets the sense that the succession of misfortunes, the "economic war, animals sold for next to nothing...no money to fertilize the field, no machinery to work" that befell the O'Brien's left her mother the most hardened. O'Brien describes her mother as someone who was "to some extent broken." She felt her mother had a "fear that [her daughter] was on the road to perdition."
In "Saints and Sinners", the theme of family distance and damaged love is a recurring one.
A central paradox in these stories is that O'Brien is both a worshipper of words (words "were of themselves animate, and when grouped together [have] an alchemy to them"), who at that same time creates vast distance between her characters- a distance so vast as to be insurmountable with the use of language.
In "My Two Mothers", the most autographical of any of the stories in this collection, "the female narrator recollects a series of memories about her late mother. She writes of a recent dream, "My mother's hand is on the razor and then her face comes into view, swimming as it were towards me...to cut the tongue out of me."
The mother's pain and jealousy, or what the narrator perceives to be the mother's pain and jealousy, stands opposed to the daughter's desire to communicate through words. The "two mothers" of the story are the narrator's dream mother and her real mother.
The irony of "My Two Mothers" is that the narrator's mother, who aimed to "cut" the creative voice out of her daughter, is at the same time a source of words and inspiration for the narrator- for she is the topic of the story. The mother in her attempt to squash her daughter's creative spirit unwittingly does the exact opposite. The pull to create stands above all.
"Manhattan Medley" is the tale of a love affair, told through a series of letters that one gets the impression were never sent. They are a diary disguised as letters, a self-indulgent attempt to understand. The letter's female author writes, "We would not enter into a marriage that must by necessity become a little stale, a little routined." The affair reveals itself as the empty vessel the protagonist throws herself into headfirst. She is lonely. This is a story of flight, of letters and words that never reach their intended recipient.
The power, and simultaneous inadequacy, of language. Moral ambiguity. Mist-covered bogs. "Old Wounds". Love lost. A final paradox of the collection of short fiction is its title: "Saints and Sinners". The world of these stories is anything but morally black and white. The title tempts the lazy reader. Its irony serves almost as an admonition: readers who see black and white, who see only saints and sinners in these stories or in life do not have a proper grasp of the power, and shortfalls, of humanity's best attempts to communicate.
In “Black Flower,” I like how O’Brien develops the character in such a manner that is so facile—but isn’t really. The black flower is a subtle metaphor for the man, but also the malaise existing between the two factions. “The petals were soft, velvety black, with tiny green eyes, pinpoints, and there was something both beautiful and sinister about it” (76).
“Old Wounds” is the story I like best in this collection. Love it, in fact. The lazy back-and-forthness through time, I suppose. The wounds, the healing of the wounds, the wounds again. Fight, make up. Like many families. Wounds. Heal.