A long, but curated story collection by the Irish writer Edna O’Brien, who like many who came before her (and I think Mavis Gallant is the best analog more so than an Alice Munro) split a lot of her time writing short fiction cataloging both the local from her own life and the international or cosmopolitan in her travels as a writer. In the opening introduction by John Banville, she is compared to Henry James in her international sensibility, and there’s not much to find fault there, but her form and style are much more contemporary. So while she might exist on a spectrum or continuum, I think her writing is much closer to that of Gallant. The collection dips in and out of these different contexts, and at times you’re dealing with an intensely local narrative that might involve a marriage closely following what was meant to be a one-off sexual affair with the groom showing up to the marriage with a fresh black eye or where someone has run off or where a small hangup leads to drama. And then as the collections moves forward, there’s a lot more intimate writing from within specific relationships and affairs. I have only read the Country Girls trilogy from O’Brien previously, which was early in her career, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see this shift occur in her novels as well as she grew older and as she was afforded more travel and worldliness through her success.
The collection begins good and gets better, and I found the later stories mature in a way (not so much that the early stories weren’t) but against the ways in which a lot of writing right now rewards precociousness, more so than experience.