Little Red Chairs (O'Brien)

Book Reviews
Edna O'Brien's boldly imagined and harrowing new novel…is both an exploration of those themes of Irish provincial life from the perspective of girls and women for which she has become acclaimed and a radical departure, a work of alternate history in which the devastation of a war-torn Central European country intrudes upon the "primal innocence, lost to most places in the world," of rural Ireland. Here, in addition to O'Brien's celebrated gifts of lyricism and mimetic precision, is a new, unsettling fabulist vision that suggests Kafka more than Joyce, as her portrait of the psychopath "warrior poet" Vladimir Dragan suggests Nabokov in his darker, less playful mode…. O'Brien is not interested in sensationalizing her material, and The Little Red Chairs is not a novel of suspense, still less a mystery or a thriller; it is something more challenging, a work of meditation and penance.
Joyce Carol Oates - New York Times Book Review


[An] extraordinary articulation of the lingering effects of trauma.... In the end, what leaves one in humbled awe of The Little Red Chairs is O'Brien's dexterity, her ability to shift without warning—like life—from romance to horror, from hamlet to hell, from war crimes tribunal to midsummer night's dream. And through it all, she embeds the most perplexing moral challenge ever conceived.... At a time when our best writers are such delightfully showy stylists, O'Brien...practices a darker, more subtle magic. Surprise and transformation lurk in even the smallest details, the most ordinary moments.
Ron Charles - Washington Post


O'Brien achieves a tone at once mythical and contemporary, archetypal and particularized, and does wonderful things with voice and tense.... The Little Red Chairs has much to recommend it: beautiful writing, immense ambition, a vivid cast of supporting characters, and a rigorous humanitarian ethos.
Priscilla Gilman - Boston Globe


A memorable work of art for our unsettled times.... [O'Brien's] prose is as lyrically arresting as ever, her vision as astute, and as delicate. The Little Red Chairs is notable for its interweaving of the near-mythical and the urgent present, and for its unflinching exploration of the complex and lasting effects of human brutality.... At once arduous and beautiful, The Little Red Chairs marries myth and fact in a new form that journeys, as we do now, from Cloonoila to The Hague, from fairy­tale to contemporary agon.
Claire Messud - Financial Times (UK)


A spectacular piece of work, massive and ferocious and far-reaching.... Holding you in its clutches from first page to last, it dares to address some of the darkest moral questions of our times while never once losing sight of the sliver of humanity at their core.... It's impossible not to be knocked out by the sly perfection of O'Brien's prose (A Best Book of 2015).
Julie Myerson - Guardian (UK)


Magnificent.... A joyful reminder of why O'Brien's literary career has spanned so many years: she repeatedly finds the sweet spot between tight craft and unhinged brilliance.... A timely and defiant book.
Lucy Atkins - Sunday Times (UK)


The title refers to the 11,541 empty chairs set out in Sarajevo in 2012 as a national monument to represent people killed during the siege by Bosnian Serb forces.) Against this dark subterranean thread O’Brien interjects lines from classic poets...who attest to the enduring power of love. Fidelma’s eventual redemption seems forced, but O’Brien’s eerily potent gaze into the nature of evil is haunting.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review. ) O'Brien retains every element of her gorgeous writing [in] her new novel.... Dark fairy-tale threads give the story a magic-realism effect, but ultimately...the author's twenty fourth book is starkly realistic. O'Brien speaks to contemporary political violence in a suitably audible voice.
Booklist


(Starred review. ) [O'Brien] delivers noble truths as well as atrocities. Her fictional depiction of Serbian war criminal Radovan Karadic will chill readers not only because it convincingly exposes the egoism of a rational madman but also because these horrors happened. O'Brien's mastery of symbolism and natural description remain unmatched in modern fiction. —John G. Matthews, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman
Library Journal


(Starred review. ) An Irish town is touched by the war crimes in Sarajevo when an outsider sleeps with a local woman and she's driven by shame and brutality into exile.... O'Brien's writing in this rich, wrenching book can be both lyrical and hard-edged, which suits a world where pain shared or a tincture of kindness can help ease the passage from losses.
Kirkus Reviews

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