The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien opened my eyes to the power of teenage girls over silly old men.
The story is narrated by Caithleen Brady, a schoolgirl in a country village in Ireland during the 1960’s. Caithleen’s father is an alcoholic wife-beater, who drinks away any hope the family have of a better life. After Caithleen’s mother drowns in an accident, Caithleen wins a scholarship to a boarding school. Baba, Caithleen’s best friend, is a paying student at the same school.
Caithleen and Baba have a co-dependent relationship rather than a true friendship. Caithleen loves spending time in her best friend Baba’s comparatively affluent household, and Baba likes having Caithleen around so she can feel superior.
As Caithleen grows older she falls in love with the local toff, a man nicknamed ‘Mr Gentleman’ by the locals. Both Caithleen and Mr Gentleman exploit each other. Caithleen is in love with love, and doesn’t give Mrs Gentleman’s happiness any consideration at all. Caithleen’s innocence is debateable. Mr Gentleman grooms Caithleen from a young age, but due to Mrs Gentleman getting wind of the affair, they are stopped from going away together.
I believe The Country Girls is quite highly regarded, however I found the romantic adventures of Caithleen to be boring, and her life to be sordid and sad. The older girls at the school showed kindness towards the younger girls, but otherwise, there isn’t much good in any of the characters. The story ended abruptly, although I believe the book is part of a trilogy. I hope things work out well for Caithleen, however I won’t be reading on to find out if that is the case.