Wild DecembersWild Decembers by Edna O’Brien

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Edna O’Brien’s prose reads like poetry. She conjures images from the mists of Irish mountains and the thick skin of peat bogs, her characters appearing wraith-like in a land of ancient legends and living superstitions. Her style lends a sense of timelessness to her stories and their settings and characters. With a few tweaks of detail, Wild Decembers could be set in late 19th century or pre-World War II Ireland as easily as the end of the 20th century.

O’Brien’s affinity for lyricism can distance the reader from the flesh and blood reality of her plot, but her skill with dialogue and the gut-wrenching dilemmas into which she plunges her characters ensure that the reader’s heart will be caught firmly in her drama.

Wild Decembers is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions: star-crossed lovers separated by an ancient land dispute. At the heart of the conflict are two men who could be as close as brothers, yet who cling stubbornly to blurred maps and barbed wire, destroying with madness and violence all that they most love. O’Brien shows the lunacy of lust and the dark tunnels of depression with spare and sharp detail- there are disturbing scenes that will be long to leave my mind, all the more devastating because of their subtlety.

I deeply admire O’Brien’s use of language and her skill at stripping prose to its most primitive, most powerful effect.

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