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The Marriage Bed: A Novel Hardcover – May 25, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The Celtic and the gothic intertwine in this dark, dreamy hardcover debut by McBride (The Nature of Water and Air) set in turn-of-the-20th-century Ireland. Deirdre O'Breen was raised primitively on the Great Island of Blasket, off the southwest coast of Ireland. After her parents die in mysterious circumstances when she is 14, she is sent to a convent school on the mainland and decides to become a nun. At the convent, she develops a schoolgirl crush on another novice, sharp-tongued Bairbre O'Breen. But her focus shifts when she meets Bairbre's devout, driven mother and handsome younger brother, Manus. Mrs. O'Breen orchestrates Manus and Deirdre's marriage, intending to use Deirde as "a kind of empty vessel like the Virgin Mary, who would carry holiness in her womb." The heavy burden of another's family legacy combined with the unspeakable secret of her own parents' death plunge Deirdre into unhappiness and despair. But when Mrs. O'Breen compels Deirdre to send her two teenaged daughters to the convent school and Deirdre finds herself pregnant, this time with a boy, she discovers the strength to share her family history with her daughters. McBride crafts her tale in rich, saturated language, though her misty-edged storytelling can be frustratingly insubstantial.
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From Booklist

McBride's hypnotic novel centers on Deirdre O'Breen, who, when the novel opens, is a Dublin housewife at the turn of the twentieth century. Her life, ordinary enough on the surface, in fact roils with unexpressed passion that reaches back into her childhood on the remote Blasket Islands. There, her mother, wild with the accumulated sorrows of a life where loved men were taken by the sea, killed herself, her husband following her with a brutal passion made more damaging by Deirdre's discovery of their sea-swept bodies. This submerged vision of love and death haunts Deirdre, to be brought out when her teenage daughters return to the very school to which she was sent as an orphan. McBride has created an eerie, compelling tale of pained love, in which the Irish setting is integral and never exotic. Patricia Monaghan
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 289 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; First Edition edition (May 25, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 074325497X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743254977
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,235,830 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Kelly Sue on May 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I read this book in a single night--it is an amazing, deeply felt and keenly observed novel. Reading it was like a meditation--lines of the book reminded me that being a woman is about being multi-dimensional, prone to change, and vulnerable. Regina McBride writes about a young Irish girl--Diedre O'Breen. Diedre, orphaned early in her life, is taken to a convent by her grandmother after a mysterious death kills both her parents. As Diedre studies for her vows, she encounters a woman who will impact her life tremedously. The novel is set in Ireland in the early 1900s--like McBride's previous novels--The Nature of Water and Air and Land of Women--the reader will find the spirit of Ireland captivating and visually stunning--its people complex and fascinating. Diedre's past plays as much a part in her life as does the keen eyes and emotion of those she encounters--from the time she spends in the convent, to the second and third phase of her life--both as wife and mother. This book's spirit left me breathless and wishing the last page had never come.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover
McBride's female protagonists are exquisitely nuanced, their deepest longings and secret fears. They exist wholly-fleshed, surrounded by the turbulent beauty of the Irish coast.

When orphaned Deirdre is delivered to the convent of Enfant de Marie by her grandmother, she is admonished to keep secret the true story of her parent's deaths, an incident Deirdre has pushed into her subconscious, burying emotions with memory. In that dank environment, with its shadowy candlelit corridors and prayerful murmurings, Deirdre is desperately unhappy, fourteen years old and far from anything familiar.

Deirdre is fascinated by one of the other postulants, Bairbre McBreen, at Enfant de Marie to fulfill her family's obligations, an effort to appease a wrathful God after her mother leaves the convent to marry. In a blend of religious fervor and alchemic fate, the O'Breen's welcome their obligation to provide a son to the Church, an effort to repair past transgressions. Bairbre has come in lieu of her brother, Manus that he may marry and carry on the family line with sons of his own.

This family forms their own Trinity, mother at the apex, as a lonely Deirdre imbues them with powers beyond their capacity. Hopelessly lost in her own imaginings of domestic harmony, Deirdre gravitates first to the ethereal Bairbre, another postulant, sensitive to each despairing sigh, "the sound of it cast a shadow like a bird that followed me along the corridor, then flew suddenly past". By marrying Manus, Deirdre enters into an unholy alliance, underestimating its power until her entire life is usurped by her mother-in-law's will, the marriage purged of its promising intimacy. Even the granddaughters are caught in the web, plucked from their mother's over-protective grasp.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ellis Bell VINE VOICE on July 24, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This novel is set in early-20th century Dublin- the same kind of world that James Joyce wrote about in Dubliners. However, this contemporarily written novel contains nothing of the prose of the great master of Irish fiction. The story follows Deirdre O'Breen, a young woman who gives up the life of the convent to marry the brother of her best friend. In the process, she must give up her devotion to Bairbra in order to produce sons for the ecclesiastical O'Breen family- on in which a son or daughter in every generation is given over to the church to become a nun or priest. In time, Deirdre gives birth to two daughters- belligerent Maighread and calm Caitlin. Lurking over all is Mrs. O'Breen, Deirdre's sinister mother-in-law, who pushes her to bear sons and to send her daughters to boarding school. What follows is a quest for Deirdre to find out her role as a parent, eventually giving up her role as a mother to answer questions about her past that have long been plaguing her.

Its a sad and dark tale, passionate and sensual. But somewhere, there is a glimmer of hope and happiness for Deirdre O'Breen. However, there are too many inconsistencies and glitches here. And, although it supposidly takes place in 1910, there's no feel of the time period; the characters seem as if they are modern and therefore also seem like cardboard. But it is an engrossing read nonetheless; I finished this novel in a day and a half.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on May 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Up until 1907, Dierdre O'Coigligh lived on the impoverish Great Blasket Island off the Irish Coast until she was fourteen when her parents died. She feared the sea and never crossed it until her grandmother left her with no choice. The teen orphan was dumped at the Enfant de Marie Convent on the mainland because her grandmother insisted that she was too old to raise a young lass.
At the Convent, Dierdre meets wealthy novice Bairbre O'Breen, a widowed mother who is a key benefactor. Through Mrs. O'Breen, Deirdre meets Bairbre's brother Manus, an architecture student. He falls in love with Dierdre-and his mother feels she is acceptable as a daughter-in-law. Instead of becoming a nun, seventeen years old Deirdre agrees to marry Manus. After the ceremony, they move to a house in Dublin that his mother furnished. They have two delightful daughters, but Mrs. O'Breen demands a grandson who will be a priest regardless of how the lad or his parents feel because the matriarch has secret scandals that need heavenly intervention to remedy.
THE MARRIAGE BED is a very lucid look at Ireland in the years just prior to World War One. The story line provides the reader with a picturesque glimpse at middle class life and the influence of family on members. Though the secrets seem minor and Mrs. O'Breen's demands seem easily shrugged off and ignored (maybe this reviewer is the anachronism as perhaps I am using a liberated twenty-first century lens), Regina McBride provides a colorful character study that makes 1910-1914 thriving as if the reader is in Dublin right before the Great War.
Harriet Klausner
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