Edna O'Brien, the author of "The Country Girls" Trilogy, "The Light of Evening," and "Byron in Love," is the recipient of the James Joyce Ulysses Medal, and an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in London.
Ellen Sage (an Irish woman living in London) has been separated from George for two years. Their son shuttles between their homes. George is taking their son on a camping trip. Although Ellen turns down George's invitation to accompany them because there will be "nothing to fill the hours of treachery between them," she is having difficulty adjusting to life without him. A week later a man shows up at Ellen's door complaining about his mistress. Although Ellen has met the man only once, they spend the day (and then the night) together. As she longs for him in the ensuing days, she thinks it was wicked of him "to renew her life for an evening when she had resigned herself to being almost dead." In a desperate mood, Ellen buys "freedom clothes" and travels to France in search of men who will provide temporary respites from her frustration. Despite her "humiliation in the presence of perfectly formed people" and her indifference to the Mediterranean's beauty, she soon finds herself in the company of an American actor and his entourage. The story takes off from there.
August is a Wicked Month provides an insightful look at a woman who is learning (or relearning) how to live her life. Cycling between ecstasy and joylessness, Ellen struggles to reclaim a sense of purpose, of dignity and freedom. It is a cliché to say that she is finding herself but Ellen is clearly on a quest for self-discovery. Of course, at the end of such journeys we don't always like what we discover.Read more ›
I love that publishers are bringing back these vintage titles. This one was originally published in 1965. That's not to say the story is dated. It's about a young Irish woman with an eight year old son who's been separated from her husband for a year. She's also gone without sex for at least that long and she's missing it. When her husband takes their son on a camping trip she bounces around her house for a bit, has a desultory sexual encounter with a conflicted neighbor, and then decides to go somewhere exciting. That place is the South of France, in August, of course. There she meets men she finds attractive who aren't interested in her or misguided men who find her attractive though she's not vaguely tempted by to them. All around her is the lure of sex but still it eludes her. She meets a younger American girl who's just run into a famous Hollywood actor in their hotel. The actor and his hangers on stop by their table at the bar and they're swept into a party at someone's mansion. There's a tragedy concerning someone outside their party and the group forced to head back to town.
They goto a burlesque show and the flirting and innuendos continue but Ellen is really only interested in the actor. The problem is so is her friend. The actor flirts with both women. Ellen feels angst over this until something far, far worse happens. She receives word of something that turns her world to black. She languishes on in France where flirting now becomes a compulsive distraction as well as a physical need.
I loved O'Brien's character, Ellen. She's not a girl though not quite a woman. She's trying to figure out how to define herself and how to live the rest of her life. This isn't a happy book but it's also not maudlin.Read more ›
Edna O'Brien is an amazing writer. For a long time I was averse to reading anything by Irish writers--chalk it up to living in a town where everyone seemed to celebrate anything Irish, and there always seemed to be some new thing that was Irish. But maybe I've grown up a little. At any rate, this novel by O'Brien explores the psychology and neurosis of a youngish, attractive mother who's separated from her husband and goes a little crazy on her summer vacation alone. She meets some unusual people in an exotic place. O'Brien doesn't set her up as some blameless heroine, although she's swept along with the activities of this jet-setting crowd. The month becomes more and more "wicked" and tragic. Her needs and desires seem to be her undoing. The story is tragic, and the woman is little able to deal with her reality without a man, or men. She is not making good choices, like an unleashed teenager. And the tragedy comes as a rebuke to her. I kept reading this going "Oh no" in my head, but unable to stop. This woman's humanity is heart-wrenching, and yet we want to shake her and tell her to grow up. Sometimes there are no clear answers, and there is no blame.