The Marriage Bed

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The heroines of Regina McBride’s two earlier novels, The Nature of Water and Air (2001) and The Land of Women (2003), were both engaged in a search for their own identities. The Marriage Bed is about another woman who finds the strength to become herself.

After her parents die, young Deirdre O’Coigligh is placed in a convent school on the Irish mainland and, believing that a penniless girl has no other options, she agrees to become a nun. However, one of Deirdre’s fellow novices, Bairbre O’Breen, has a handsome brother Manus, an architecture student. Noticing that Manus seems quite taken with Deirdre, Manus’s wealthy mother, Mrs. O’Breen, decides to see that the two are married.

Not until after the wedding does Deirdre realize how much control Mrs. O’Breen has over her children. She had Bairbre become a nun to repay God for her own abandonment of the vocation; she expects Manus to father a son and force him into the priesthood because an ancestor disgraced his high ecclesiastical position. Her only interest in Deirdre is as a necessary vessel; her only interest in Deirdre’s two daughters is as pawns whose lives she can control.

As an orphan girl, trained to obey, Deirdre has difficulty learning to assert herself. Moreover, she has never confronted the scandalous secrets in her own heritage. After the birth of a healthy son, however, Deirdre summons up the strength to defy Mrs. O’Breen and to reclaim not only her daughters but also the husband she has never ceased to love. This spellbinding story is as mysterious and as hauntingly beautiful as the Irish landscape.