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Saints and Sinners: Stories Paperback – May 9, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
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"Edna O'Brien writes the most beautiful, aching stories of any writer, anywhere."―Alice Munro
"One great virtue of Edna O'Brien's writing is the sensation it gives of a world made new by language. . . . A lyric language which is all the more trustworthy because it issues from a sensibility that has known the costs as well as the rewards of being alive."―Seamus Heaney, from "Citation, Lifetime Achievement Award"
"O'Brien mixes her trademark lyricism with a brutal depiction of lives marred by violence...Throughout, tragedy mingles with beauty, yearning with survival, and destruction with moments of grace."―Publishers Weekly
"Fifty years after leaving County Clare for London, the doyenne of Irish fiction, Edna O'Brien, is still preoccupied with the land of her birth....[Saints and Sinners] is a shimmering book--lyric, but highly controlled."―Rachel Cooke, The Observer (London)
"Ever since the publication of The Country Girls, in 1960, O'Brien's work has been recognized as something new, turning themes of sexual repression into joyful experiment and the age-old sadness of exile into an opportunity to explore a brave new world....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."―Aisling Foster, The Times (London)
"The world, if viewed in clichéd terms, is indeed populated by the two types of individuals cited in the title of this new collection of short stories by the doyenne of contemporary Irish literature, an acknowledged master of the form. But that is all that is clichéd about this splendid book....Eleven stories in total bring literary lovers' rapt attention to this author's clear, immaculate style and her brilliant selection of detail, nimble plot construction, and astute character delineation. Recommend O'Brien along with William Trevor and Alice Munro."―Brad Hooper, Booklist
"Half a century after her incendiary debut novel...Edna O'Brien still holds her place as a revealer of the nation's soul. She shows its 'maimed, stark and misshapen, but ferociously tenacious' character, in this latest elegant, uncluttered collection, to have a remarkable, tragic forbearance for suffering...In a lovely flourish, O'Brien scatters her stories with small, beautifully-tended and thrillingly described gardens, as lush as they are sweet-smelling. Some sit on the fringes of the story, others offer respite for characters who stumble across them in passing, but they emerge time and again like little plots of makeshift Edens for the fallen."―Arifa Akbar, Independent (London)
"O'Brien's new collection of stories, Saints and Sinners, features plenty of sex, plenty of people who are all very much alive, living bravely in the face of death. Her protagonists are wonderfully flawed and vulnerable....complexity and ambivalence gives her work great depth and charge...So who are the eponymous saints? Who are the new Adam and Eve? O'Brien's compassionate, mesmerizing tales exhilaratingly refuse to spell that out."―Michele Roberts, Financial Times
Top Customer Reviews
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!Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I found her writing beautiful when it came to Ireland. Her characters were confusing . They disappeared and can back in the writing which was disturbing. Read morePublished 16 days ago by bob R
I usually like reading short stories, however I must have not been in the mood when I attempted to read a few of these because they were not of interest to me.Published on February 28, 2014 by amazonbuyer
Edna O'Brien is just one of the greatest living writers there is. Philip Roth said she was the greatest female writer (a little bit of sexism there, Phil) she's just a great... Read morePublished on January 7, 2014 by Phidian
I was a bit disappointed. However it was worth reading. Sometimes O'brien can be very depressing. The stories revealed very 'small' lives. Read morePublished on October 8, 2013 by SUZANNE R STANLEY
Her stories are leave you with the ability to appreciate the everyday while making you want to travel to far off places to discover your true selfPublished on August 25, 2013 by Chelsea Tucholka
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the Irish genre writers who deal with the strengths and peccadillos of the human race. Read morePublished on April 19, 2013 by kristin mente
I really wanted to like this book and its stories but I've tried several times to read different stories. Each time I finish one, I'm sorely disappointed. Read morePublished on March 27, 2012 by Amazon Customer
Love it! It is a great read. I never read Edna O Brien before, and now I find myself looking for her earlier booksPublished on November 17, 2011 by S. Johnson