Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The Country Girls Trilogy and Epilogue is a series of novels from the 1960s written by Irish author Edna O'Brien. The key characters from the novel are bolded below.
Book 1: The Country Girls
The story is set in 1950's Ireland and centers around Caithleen "Kate" Brady and Bridget "Baba" Brennan, two young girls who live in the Irish countryside and have been friends their entire childhood. Kate is described as idealistic and is known to romanticize things; her greatest hope is to find her true love. Baba, on the other hand, has no intentions of finding a husband and instead hopes to live a life of independence and adventure.
The friendship between the two girls appears odd at first glance, as they seem to be opposites. Not only do they want different things out of life, but they have very different personalities and backgrounds. Kate is intelligent but lives with a drunk father and depressed mother. Baba, on the other hand, leans more on her looks than her brains, but she comes from a loving home. Her father, Mr. Brennan, is another key character in the story, known for his support of both his daughter and Kate.
When the novel begins, Kate earns a scholarship to attend a convent school, which just so happens to be the same one Baba is planning to attend the following fall. Around this same time, Kate learns that her mother has passed away while having an affair with another man, and this leads her to spend extended time with Baba's family, as she cannot return home to her drunken father while grieving the loss of her mother.
One day, a man from their village named Jacques de Maurier, who is referred to as Mr. Gentleman in the story, sees Kate waiting for the bus and offers to give her a ride in his car. They end up flirting throughout the trip, and later Kate romanticizes the memory of Mr. Gentleman, replaying their time together in her head.
When the fall comes and the girls arrive at the convent, they find it to be a harsh place, not at all what they dreamed it would be. Both Kate and Baba come to hate the convent, and they are eventually expelled for writing a vulgar remark on a holy card. Following their expulsions, Baba moves to Dublin to attend a technical school. With nowhere to go but back to her alcoholic father, Kate decides to follow Baba and work in a Dublin grocery store.
While in Dublin the girls live with a German couple named Joanna and Gustav. After some time, Mr. Gentleman reappears, and he and Kate begin dating. Around this same time Baba is diagnosed with tuberculosis and must leave for six months to recover. While Baba is gone, Kate and Mr. Gentleman plan a vacation to Italy with the intention of consummating their relationship. However, as Kate waits for Mr. Gentleman to arrive, she receives a telegram from him breaking off their plans and ending their relationship.
Book 2: The Lonely Girl
The story picks up two years after Kate has been abandoned by Mr. Gentleman and finds her still working at the grocery store while living with the now healthy Baba at Joanna and Gustav's home. Both girls date many men, mostly wealthy, older men, and happily remain single. However, around this time Kate meets a man named Eugene Gaillard , an older documentary-film director. Eugene and Kate begin a relationship, but after they have been dating for a bit, he visits Kate at Joanna and Gustav's house...
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and proceeds to spend the entire evening flirting with Baba. Shortly after this, Kate also learns that Eugene is married. While she has reservations about him and is not thrilled about his infidelity, Kate still agrees to travel with him to his country house. It is here that Eugene officially tells Kate about his wife, Laura.
Throughout all of this, Kate is still a virgin, and though Eugene tries to seduce her a number of times, she remains so. Eventually, though, after feeling much pressure to have sex with Eugene, Kate returns to Dublin, assuming their relationship will not go any further. To her surprise, she receives a letter from Eugene stating that he still wants to continue dating her.
Shortly after receiving this letter from Eugene, Kate receives another letter, this one written and delivered anonymously. The author of this letter writes that she should be ashamed of her relationship with Eugene. Then, in another strange turn of events, Kate's father arrives in Dublin demanding she return home. After a few days with her father, Kate is able to escape his house and return to Dublin. She is afraid, though, that he will look for her at Joanna and Gustav's house, so instead she goes to Eugene's home. Eventually, her father and his associates suspect she is at Eugene's house and arrive with the aim of capturing her again. Kate hides under a bed as she listens to Eugene's responses to her family's questions; she is dismayed to realize that Eugene does not care for her the way she cares for him. Nonetheless, Kate's father and friends eventually leave, and though Kate was disappointed to learn of Eugene's true feelings, she stays with him and ends up having sex with him.
Baba is worried about her friend, and so she visits Eugene's home with her friend "The Body." She warns Kate that her father intends to return with the bishop the next day in an attempt to break up her relationship with Eugene. Kate's father and the bishop do indeed arrive, but Eugene refuses to let them in.
As time goes on, Kate learns that Eugene was not the perfect man she had imagined him to be. Her romantic vision of him fades as she begins to see his true nature, which can be rather cold and rude at times. A number of factors begin to chip away at their relationship. For instance, Laura, Eugene's wife, threatens to take away his rights to see his children if he marries Kate. Then, some friends visit, and Eugene outright flirts with one of the women while wholly ignoring Kate. All of this leads to Kate eventually deciding to walk away from Eugene while they are having lunch in Dublin, which prompts him to end their relationship, leaving her there. During the midst of all this, Baba becomes pregnant, but she unfortunately miscarries.
After these very tumultuous years living in and near Dublin, the girls decide to start their lives over in England. Kate enrolls in a university and intends to pursue a degree in English while working at a shop. Meanwhile, Baba works as a receptionist at a hotel. The women continue to live together in their new home.
Book 3: Girls in Their Married Bliss
The third book of the series picks up in what appears to be an odd place to the reader. After all that has just transpired in the second book, the third begins with Kate married (unhappily) to Eugene, and the two of them have a child together, a son named Cash. Baba too has married; she is with an Irishman named Frank Durack.
Kate's unhappiness in her marriage leads her to start an affair with a married man. After Eugene finds out, he ends their marriage. At this point, Kate asks to move in with Baba, but Frank does not like Kate and refuses to allow her to stay with them. In an attempt to help her friend, Baba takes her husband out to dinner so that Kate and Cash can stay at her home for a bit. Unfortunately, when they return home they find Eugene, furious, looking for Cash. Kate eventually agrees to return Cash to Eugene, as she cannot find a place for the two of them to stay together.
Unhappy in her marriage as well, Baba begins an affair with a drummer named Harvey. The affair is short lived, but Baba does become pregnant. She tries to have an abortion, but it does not work, so she decides to tell Frank the truth about the pregnancy. To her surprise, Frank agrees to accept the child, Tracy, as his own daughter and ends up loving her very much.
In the aftermath of her separation from Eugene, Kate becomes extremely depressed. She works part-time at a cleaner's and lives in a small studio apartment. When she discovers that Eugene has begun a relationship with Maura, his housekeeper and nanny to Cash, she becomes extremely upset and slits her wrists. Though she has hurt herself badly, Kate does survive this incident.
At this point Kate begins seeing a psychiatrist, and through this experience she begins to remember parts of her mother's depression that she had long forgotten. She begins to see the similarities between herself and her mother: both wanting of love, desperate for approval, and struggling with bouts of depression throughout their lives.
The story then jumps ahead about six months and finds Kate more depressed and lonely than ever. One day, when she goes to pick Cash up from school, she is informed that Eugene and Maura have taken Cash to Fiji in an attempt to get him away from Kate. Feeling like a failure as a mother, Kate undergoes sterilization surgery, and the book concludes with Baba visiting her in the hospital.
Book 4: The Epilogue
The fourth and final book in this series picks up twenty years after the end of the third book, just after Kate has passed away from drowning. Baba takes Kate's remains back to Ireland and plans to meet with Cash to arrange for Kate's funeral.
Shortly before this, Baba had engaged in an affair while traveling on her own. During this trip, she received word that Frank had suffered a stroke, so she quickly returned home. The need to return and care for Frank left Baba resentful of his dependence on her. Baba also feels some resentment toward Frank, as he had not allowed her to see her friend, Kate, for many years. In fact, Baba and Kate had only just reconnected shortly before Kate's death.
Once in Ireland with Kate's remains, Baba is pleased to have the opportunity to connect with Cash, and she is happy to see that after everything, he still has great love for his mother.