Edna O’Brien is one those authors whose voice you can hear reading to you as your eyes scan the page. The Little Red Chairs opens in familiar O’Brien territory; rural, remote and coastal Ireland. Life plods on in much the way that it always has with the added gloom of the economic fallout of the Celtic Tiger. Into this close-knit world comes a charismatic stranger. He is handsome and has heeling hands. The whole village falls under his spell and one woman more than all the others. Running underneath all this are a stream of steady hints that he is not what he seems. His sudden unmasking leaves the village reeling and one woman pays a particularly heavy price for her infatuation.
Once the narrative leaves Ireland, I lost Edna O’Brien’s voice. Not that I cared, for by that time I was too eager to click onto the next page to need a soothing lilt in my imaginary ear. The second half of the book is devoted to exploring the fallout, the spectacular bad behaviour. We’re talking about war-and-genocide scale bad behaviour. The human flotsam and jetsam that gets washed up every time guns and bombs seem like a good way to solve problems.
The Little Red Chairs is not a novel that I expected to read authored by Edna O’Brien, well it was to begin with but the sweep of it is larger than usual. From the first page you have to think about the nature of being an outsider and of belonging. You are led gently into considering the triggers and consequences of hate, never once are you preached at. Just shown the heart-rending consequences. A wonderful book that had me blinking as I emerged into reality at end of total immersion in the story.
DISCLAIMER: I was given an ARC of The Little Red Chairs by NetGalley in return for an honest review.
THE LITTLE RED CHAIRS by Edna O’Brien
Published by Faber and Faber
Paperback£7.99, Kindle £5.03