Thursday, 15 February 2018

Wot I'm reading: Beauty and the Beast of Bosnia


Edna O'Brien: THE LITTLE RED CHAIRS


Edna O’Brien is in her late 80s and, boy, can she still cut the literary mustard. The Little Red Chairs is very close to a masterpiece, up there with the best of this extraordinary author’s oeuvre. And - short of writing about Trump or Brexit - it’s as contemporary as you can get.

A refugee Balkan ‘faith healer’ sets out his stall in a small village on the Irish coast. The locals fall under his spell, none more so than Fidelma McBride, the draper’s wife, childless and unhappy. Fidelma manages to – almost – keep their affair a secret. But then ‘Doctor Vlad’ is exposed as the exact opposite of what he claims to be. He’s a war criminal, the 'Beast of Bosnia', wanted for trial in The Hague.

Fidelma’s life takes an awful turn after this revelation. I won’t give away any more of the plot, but an agonizing event follows Vlad’s arrest and there’s another grim chapter in a London asylum centre where several refugees narrate their stories, of Bosnia and elsewhere in this ruined world in this ruined time.

Edna O'Brien, still cutting the literary mustard
Whether she’s writing of love or of war, O’Brien’s prose fairly dances off the page. This magnificent book possesses a magic of its own, a terrible beauty. The most poignant novel I’ve read in a long time; indeed one of the best ever on the mighty theme of War and Peace.

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