Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 893
Miss O'Faolain, the daughter of Sean O'Faolain, was brought up in Ireland, has lived in France and Italy, and now lives in England and the United States.
Julia O'Faolain's fraught stories [Man in the Cellar] reverberate after you have read them. Just as you think a character has been typed, you are given a new look from a different angle, so that you finally sympathise with the harpy, cancel your admiration of the sophisticated daughter of stuffy parents, wonder whether the hero is not far sicker than the villain.
Julia O'Faolain has the knack of shattering the reader's complacency, and yet her stories, however ruthless and revealing, are written with wit, elegance and humour. She cracks things considerably bigger than nuts with an instrument much more precise than a sledgehammer. She is particularly good at contrasting the Anglo-Saxon and Latin ways of life; usually it is her Anglo-Saxons who blow their tops, while her hot-blooded Latins slyly keep their cool. And 'Lots of Ghastlies', in which emancipated Priss returns to the irritating bosom of her bourgeois parents, reminds me of Angus Wilson's Such Darling Dodos: a comparison which is intended as the highest praise. (p. 416)
John Mellors, in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1974; reprinted by permission of John Mellors), September 26, 1974.
[As] I was walking through a heavy rain storm, I thought whereas Anaïs Nin might remark 'God has turned his tap on' Julia O'Faolain's comment would be tenser and more graphic. But this splendidly vigorous writer has much more than an adversion to cant or pretension to recommend the seven stories that make up Man in the Cellar.
This is also the title of the longest story and in it she clearly shows her hand and what we can expect from her. For though the stories range from small town provincial Italy and Los Angeles to Ireland and Paris, she has one major preoccupation: the difficulty, often the impossibility, of a man and a woman 'relating' to each other if they come from different countries and cultures….
Although Julia O'Faolain is a fierce writer she isn't by any means a strident shrew with an over-familiar cause to shout. She's lively, very funny, and writes like an express train. (pp. 132-33)
Digby Durrant, in London Magazine (© London Magazine 1974), October/November, 1974.
Julia O'Faolain … is clearly a novelist of great talent whose interest has twice come close to a Poe-ian obsession with immurement. This second novel [Women in the Wall] is wild, gaunt, bloody, tragic and wholly impressive. Its appearance on lists of the best of fiction this year is inevitable.
The women in the wall of the title are sixth-century nuns, living out their turbulent, spiritual and corporeal lives in what used to be called the Dark Ages in Gaul….
The force of language, the subtle and entirely successful recreation by means of it of the spirit as well as the events of Gallic life 13 centuries ago, at the end of the Roman era and the beginning of the Christian, make Women in the Wall a remarkably modern historical novel, poignant and powerful. It absorbs the reader into a time when women were chattels, when "inherited land followed the spear not the spindle,"—into a time when the greatest conqueror was not of the flesh but of the spirit, when the full force of early Christianity made fanatics and saints of its believers. (p. 21)
Doris Grumbach, "Conquerors and Saints," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1975 by The New Republic, Inc.), May 10, 1975, p. 21.
If a significant proportion of the new Irish writing is concerned with the survival of human values under reductive economic pressure, Ireland also has, in Julia O'Faolain, an outstanding satirist of the affluent society…. [She is one of] the very few Irish writers who [is] truly international in range. Sean O'Faolain and Mary Lavin have both set stories in Italy: Julia O'Faolain has been able to write, as it were, from inside Italian life. Where she differs most sharply, however, from other Irish writers is in choosing to work from within the contemporary flux of modes and passions. Her characters generally have comparative economic freedom. Not being pinned down in one situation, they escape that terminal haunting that gives most Irish fiction its metaphysical unease. They do not escape, though, essentially the same challenges: only in their case the pressure comes from within, generally as a conflict between the direction of their own vitality and the assumptions of the way they have been brought up…. To call Julia O'Faolain a satirist, as I did a few lines back, is to do her work only partial justice: it suggests the incisiveness of her talent—for wit and verbal devastation she has few equals among her contemporaries—but not the strength nor the subtlety of her concern. There is a power of mind behind her work, as well as an irreverently perceptive eye, that catches the intensity of human drives, the essential seriousness of the effort to live, without swallowing any of the trends in self-deception. She is an acute observer, who is involved at a level of concern deeper than the substance or sum of her observations. (pp. 239-40)
Roger Garfitt, "Constants in Contemporary Irish Fiction" (copyright © 1975 by Roger Garfitt), in Two Decades of Irish Writing: A Critical Survey, edited by Douglas Dunn, Dufour Editions, Inc., 1975.
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