O'Faolain is a British novelist, short story writer, translator, and non-fiction writer. She produces witty, urbane fiction ranging from her modern chronicle of troubled Ireland, No Country for Young Men, to her imaginative and convincing portrayal of a nunnery in the Dark Ages, Women in the Wall. She is the daughter of Sean O'Faolain. (See also CLC, Vol. 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 81-84.)
[In "Three Lovers" Julia O'Faolain] writes firmly, with a voice all her own, the voice of her New Yorker stories expanded into a novel: well planned, intelligent, concise, more pointed than her father [Sean O'Faolain], with a cold female eye for the egocentricities of masculine behavior.
"Three Lovers" hinges on three men in one inexperienced (Irish) woman's life….
Although [Sally Tyndal] is the focus of the novel she remains two-dimensional throughout—not a failing on Julia O'Faolain's part, but daring, because that's the way [she] really is….
Cruelly, Julia O'Faolain charts her progress towards superficiality: three lovers in the book—many more afterwards. For Sally Tyndal, as for so many women, life is lived at one remove: her lovers become a substitute for living….
It is all crisply, neatly, if somewhat conventionally done. The narrative shifts expertly from stream of consciousness to direct reportage. The texture of the prose is thick and pungent. And Miss O'Faolain scores most with little prickly insights, small amounts of truth caught and preserved like photographs.
She is heavier-handed when it comes to developing situations and character so that the moments of truth interrelate. Fintan's eccentricity is a touch sentimental; Sally's family in Ireland are stock; some of the details of the narrative are a bore. In a sense, we learn more about Sally in [a] … revealing second at the cocktail party (when she makes no response to the talk of wogs) than we do later on, in pages of protracted analysis.
The novel becomes like a necklace; there are moments that are pearls. But the string of plot that holds them together becomes tiresome. In a book with much new and unconventional thinking and writing, it is disappointing to be slowed down by a plodding, conventional plot. It dulls the impact—and, more important for Miss O'Faolain, the dutiful structuring noticeably dulls her prose.
Sally Beauman, "Fiction: 'Three Lovers'," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1971 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 9, 1971, p. 38.
In Julia O'Faolain's Three Lovers the insignificance of the characters, my inability to work up the slightest interest in the love complications surrounding a young Irish woman in Paris, gave me a distinct sense of evil—nullity, nothingness. I asked myself, why can't I care about any of these people and what happens to them? Why are the characters in so many novels so expectable, with nothing to tell us?
Such nothingness does amount to "evil": it is evil for a human being not to count anywhere, not even in a novel!
Alfred Kazin, "Fiction as a Social Gathering," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1971 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. LIV, No. 27, July 3, 1971, pp. 19-22.∗
[In Women in the Wall] Julia O'Faolain illuminates the Dark Ages and brings vividly to life characters from fourteen centuries ago. Is the book true to that distant, now faint and shadowy, time in Europe's history?… Are we the victims of the novelist's skill and imagination, compelled to believe that her invented days and nights in convent, palace and basilica were really as she describes them when in fact they weren't? There is, of course, no means of checking. Nor, I think, should we want to. Julia O'Faolain achieves the truth of fiction, if not of history. (p. 113)
John Mellors, "Animality and Turtledom," in London Magazine (© London Magazine 1975), Vol. 15, No. 3, August-September, 1975, pp. 111-14.∗
Julia O'Faolain takes risks…. No Country for Young Men tackles the legacy of Republicanism in Southern Ireland through the story of one family. It's a big, intelligent novel with a firm grasp of history and an impressive range of subjects: Irish-American relations, the 'mucked-up heritage' of the descendants of Republican heroes, the predicaments of Irish wives and daughters, the dangerous effects of living in the past…. It runs the risk, not only of treating inflammable materials cooly, but of having so much to explain.
At times the novel edges towards lecture-topics…. But that schoolroom tone is mostly avoided by means of a well-managed double plot, which moves between 1921 and 1979….
[The characterisations are not subtle.] But they allow for an energetically acerbic satire on contemporary Dublin, and on American attitudes to Ireland…. And the novel's strong grasp of the relation between a family and a national history transcends its occasional imaginative sagginess.
Hermione Lee, "Most Distressful Country," in The Observer (reprinted by permission of The Observer Limited), No. 9849, June 1, 1980, p. 28.∗
The over-riding weakness of Julia O'Faolain's No Country for Young Men is precisely a lack of trimming through attempting too much. The Irish issue may look on the surface ready matter for novelists…. But how to present a coherent picture of so much confusion immediately throws up problems. I do not believe that a novel intentionally disorganised and confused in an effort to reproduce the Irish atmosphere is taking the right path, but this is what Julia O'Faolain has tried to bring off…. [The] focus continually shifts and so does our attention. It is the distraction of hearing too many conversations at once, as in a crowded pub.
Simon Blow, "Cocktail Drugs," in New Statesman (© 1980 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 99, No. 2568, June 6, 1980, pp. 854, 856.∗
[No Country for Young Men] is an ambitious undertaking…. A great deal is going on in the book, both in the present and in the past, and the attempts to avoid disorder are not always successful. Such an abundance of material is bound to get out of hand; it resists confinement, spills over, takes the shape it needs irrespective of any narrative design. Issues are raised which cannot be developed. Whole themes for novels are suggested and dealt with in a couple of paragraphs—the son of a servant who ends up master of the great house is one example.
Julia O'Faolain frequently gets into difficulties with time sequences, not only in the basic backwards-and-forwards movement, but in the...
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