Named a Best Book of 2019 by the BBC, Evening Standard, and The Sunday Times
"Girl is a stunning novel, another remarkable achievement from one of the English language's greatest living writers."Michael Schaub, NPR
"Hypnotic, lyrical and pulsating with dark energy, Girl is a masterful study of human evil by a writer who, at 88, is still getting better. It will blast you with its searing, savage beauty." Christina Patterson, The Times (UK)
"The rhythm of Girl is intermittent and fearsomely strong; reading this novel is like riding the rapids … O’Brien’s understanding of, and sympathy for, girls in trouble transcends culture." Terrence Rafferty, The Atlantic
"A masterpiece, a heart-wrenching story of loss and redemption powerfully rendered in O’Brien’s singular voice, which is at once fierce and tender, conscientious and visionary." The Irish Times
"Throughout her long career, Edna O’Brien has proved to be an exceptionally brave writer, resolved to tell the truth, loyal to nothing except her memory, her imagination and her faith in the power and beauty of language . . . It’s a tribute to O’Brien’s skill as a writer her ability to inhabit the minds of her characters and to craft virtuosic sentences that Girl is immensely painful to read." Francine Pose, The New York Times Book Review
"Girl is [Edna O'Brien's] 19th novel and she has intimated that it may be her last. It may yet prove to be her most powerful." Sean O'Hagan, The Guardian
"In a feat of empathy and imagination, the Irish writer O'Brien portrays one girl’s torments after she is taken by jihadis in Nigeria. . . [GIRL is]. . . a heartbreaking tale and a singular achievement." Kirkus Reviews
"O’Brien captures the intensity and urgency of Maryam’s plight with measured, evocative prose that often reads like poetry. She succeeds in putting a personal face on an international tragedy." Publishers Weekly
"While the author writes about a culture wholly different from her own, she does so not just with grace and compassion but with Nigerian songs, tales and myths." Bethanne Patrick, The Washington Post
"O'Brien's portrait of war, powerfully narrated . . . against a rich backdrop of cultural rituals and myths, is downright haunting." People
"A story of indoctrination and resistance, Girl is told in a prose so butter-smooth and sprueless it seems to have fallen fully-formed from O’Brien’s pen. The book’s sudden outbursts of stomach-turning violence come like speed bumps in the greater purl, made more jolting and haunting still by the terrible, clear-eyed maturity of the writing. It’s a sort of tight-rope act O’Brien seems to be performing, strung between the stream-like nature of her prose and the painful shards of her story."Bailey Trela, Ploughshares
"The lauded Irish novelist leaps continents in a feat of imagination that transmogrifies headlines into a searing fable of violence and resilience . . . In spare, exacting prose, O’Brien aims her saga, like a divining rod, at 'the best of all knowing and feeling and forgiving.'" O Magazine
"Burning with rage and anguish, yet woven from glittering prose, Girl is a riveting story of the unbreakable bonds between mothers, daughters, and sisters." Esquire
“This is Auden’s Icarus story, though it happens at eye level, right on planet Earth, while everyone’s lookingor could. It’s horrific, as the writer intended, though the Girl endures and is finally released from many forms of captivity, into the light. It’s never wan, the light of love.” Ann Beattie
“A haunting tale of suffering and innocence defiled. Remarkable in its trajectory from darkness through to a hard-won glimmer of light. Fierce and lyrical by turns. Another magnificent book from a magnificent writer.” Marina Carr
“By an extraordinary act of the imagination we are transported into the inner world of a girl who, after brutal abuse as a slave to Nigerian jihadis, escapes and with dogged persistence begins to rebuild her shattered life. Girl is a courageous book about a courageous spirit.” J. M. Coetzee
“Girl is a novel of profound and ever-renewing empathy and gracea parable on the complex subject of human redemption. Its verbal funds are clear and transporting and unforgettable; its dramatic resources vast.” Richard Ford
“Edna O’Brien tells this story with such compassion and understanding that the very disturbing events she relates are upliftingand unforgettable. An utterly unique achievement.” Ian McKellen
Nigerian schoolgirl Maryam is modest, studious, and pious, but these virtues do not spare her from abduction by Boko Haram militants. After being enslaved, mutilated, and raped, Maryam is a young woman on the run, a newborn child strapped to her back. Wracked by hunger, thirst, illness, and injury, she journeys through landscapes decimated by violence and drought to be restored to her family and promoted by the government as proof that the terrorists will be vanquished. She is also a stain on her community, separated from her baby, and threatened and abused by her family. Once again, Maryam escapes, eventually establishing some security. But will she ever be free? Has she ever been? VERDICT This latest from PEN/Nabokov Award winner O'Brien (The Little Red Chairs) bears witness to and powerfully indicts the atrocities experienced by women. The extremities of Maryam's experience, suggests O'Brien, are particularly horrific instances of the sexism, chauvinism, and cruelty that circumscribe the existence of all women, and to be a girl in the world is to experience these sinister forces over the course of a lifetime. Tough but rewarding reading.—John G. Matthews, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman
In a feat of empathy and imagination, the Irish writer O'Brien portrays one girl's torments after she is taken by jihadis in Nigeria.
Opening with a nighttime raid that recalls Boko Haram's 2014 abduction of schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria, O'Brien (The Little Red Chairs, 2015, etc.) lets one victim, named Maryam, tell her story. In a jungle camp, their captors bombard the girls with prayers, edicts, and hatred. The militants rape them repeatedly. In the Blue House, there is "a long corridor with cubicles leading off it and in each one an iron bed and a naked bulb dangling down." The prettiest girls are sold to wealthy men in Arabia. Others are given as brides to men who excel in battle. Such is Maryam's lot, and when she has a baby, it's suddenly clear how long her ordeal has been. Then, only 60 pages in, she escapes. But O'Brien withholds hope, opening her heroine's world to new perils and despair. Maryam endures starvation and a friend's death on a jungle trek with her baby that fuels tension as recapture seems inevitable. She even abandons her Babby, but some women from a herding community find and return her. They share their village and rich culture with Maryam. There she realizes her presence as a jihadi's wife is a threat to her hosts. Reunited with her mother and feted by the government, Maryam learns of the stigma attached to a jihadi wife's child and she is separated from Babby. Throughout the post-escape narrative, O'Brien uses every opportunity to insert songs, tales, myths, and rituals of the country, deeply enriching a story and a character that were already memorable. She also brings to the fore the complex relations and supportive roles of women in a novel largely blighted by males. Long associated with Ireland, O'Brien might spark questions of cultural appropriation with this excursion to Africa. But she has always dealt with women's oppression as her thematic palette has expanded over the years, with her previous novel combining Balkan war crimes and the global refugee crisis.
A heartbreaking tale and a singular achievement.