Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Mary Hooligan, ensconced in a four-poster bed in the suburban London house which she is being paid to look after for its absent owners, reviews, over the course of the winter night which gives the novel its title, her life and loves. Approaching middle age, divorced, with a grown son, she mulls over her career so far in an exuberant, zany tour de force reminiscent of Molly Bloom’s in James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) in its content and form.
Edna O’Brien’s customary fictional practice is to look at life through the eyes of a female narrator who is either a doomed dreamer or spontaneous, like Mary. In fact, toward the end of Night, Mary may well represent an attempt to fuse the two types into one. For most of this work, however, Mary is of the latter type, aggressively courageous in her determination to endure, and enjoy without whining, whatever life sends her way. Her joy is everywhere manifest in her exuberant, creative use of the English language: “I’ve had better times of course—the halcyon days, rings, ringlets, ashes of roses, shit, chantilly, high teas, drop scones, serge suits, binding attachments, all that.”
She weaves time back and forth from the present as she remembers people and places significant in her life; the novel has no plot development in any traditional sense. Foremost in importance are her mother (Lil), her father (Boss), her son (Tutsie), her former husband, “one of the original princes of darkness” (Dr. Flaggler), and her childhood home in the fictional Roman Catholic Barony of Coose, in the west of Ireland, rendered in full sensory detail in its “occidental damp and murk.”
Mary has difficulties with her violent, cold father which are related to her mother’s smothering, compensatory love for her. In an early tableau, she describes her mother’s funeral as “a comic event” following a long illness during which she helped nurse her (O’Brien’s own mother did not die until five years after the publication of Night). She finds her father’s demands increasingly intolerable: “Why hadn’t they died together,” she wonders. In a graphically observed tableau, close to the end of the novel, Mary remembers visiting her father for Christmas. He had retired from farming. She remembers: “I had a speech prepared. I was to say ’I am sorry, I haven’t written,...
(The entire section is 967 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Night is O’Brien’s most Joycean of novels, very clearly reminiscent of Molly Bloom’s concluding monologue in Ulysses (1922) in its mature female narrator, who is defiantly, and more optimistically than in James Joyce’s novel, taking stock of her life and loves. It is indeed an exuberant tour de force in the zany realization of its narrator and in its stream-of-consciousness form.
Over the course of one winter night, which gives the novel its title, Mary Hooligan, approaching middle age, divorced, with a grown son, reviews her life and loves. In the character of Mary, O’Brien succeeds, for the moment, in fusing the spontaneous, activist Baba and the doomed dreamer Kate. For most of the work, however, it is the former voice that predominates. Mary is aggressively courageous in her determination to endure and to enjoy without whining whatever life sends her way. Her joy is manifest in her exuberant use of the English language: “I’ve had better times of course—the halcyon days, rings, ringlets, ashes of roses . . . chantilly, high teas, drop scones, serge suits, binding attachments, all that.”
She weaves time back and forth from the present as she remembers significant people and places in her life. The novel has no plot development in any traditional sense. Foremost in importance to Mary are her mother, Lil, whose specialty is the spittled-on mother’s knot; her alcoholic father, Boss; her son, Tutsie, whom she realizes she loves too much; her former husband, the cold, authoritarian Dr. Flaggler, “one of the original princes of darkness”; and her childhood home in the Roman Catholic barony of Coose, in the...
(The entire section is 681 words.)
Bibliography (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Eckley, Grace. Edna O’Brien, 1974.
Guppy, Shusha. “The Art of Fiction, LXXXII: Edna O’Brien,” in Paris Review. XXVI (Summer, 1984), pp. 22-50.
Roth, Phillip. “A Conversation with Edna O’Brien: The Body Contains the Life Story,” in The New York Times Book Review. November 18, 1984, pp. 38-40.