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Friday, 21 June, 2002, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
Irish author defends murderous tale
Edna O'Brien
O'Brien described by friends as "ferociously" intelligent
Irish author Edna O'Brien has never been one to shy away from controversy.

Critics have referred to her as "one of the greatest writers in the English speaking world", but in her home country Edna O'Brien's books were banned for many years.

But now her use of real-life murders in her latest novel has taken her troubled relationship with her homeland into new realms of controversy.

Some have accused her of having exploited a private tragedy.

But she told BBC World Service's Meridian Masterpiece programme: "This was the most public case ever to take place in Ireland. I wrote it out of a deep symbiotic feeling and identification for those dead people, not as a piece of prurience."

Shocked

In The Forest has been attacked for exploiting a real murder case that took place eight years ago in rural Ireland, near to where O'Brien grew up.

The story mirrors the killings of Imelda Riney, her three-year-old son Liam and local priest, Father Joseph Walsh, whose bodies were found abandoned in a wood.

In the Forest, Edna O'Brien
Murder she wrote

Brendan O'Donnell was found guilty of the triple-murders and later committed suicide whilst serving a life sentence in prison.

Claiming that "the decision to go into this book wasn't blithely undertaken", O'Brien has defended her decision to fictionalise the case.

"Writing is always a very secret act," she said.

"If I were to think of what others would think of the book that would paralyse me. When the rumpus comes I am always shocked."

Fraught

Thoroughly researching her characters, O'Brien told how she took to walking in the very area where the real crime had taken place.

She told of the difficulty of imagining the mind of a murderer, but explained that it was essential if the story was to be accurate.

"This is my way of living," she explained.

"It's not easy as it's mentally and emotionally unnerving all the time, but it keeps me going."

O'Brien first found literary success in the 1960s with The Country Girls, a novel about teenagers leaving rural villages for the wickedness of Dublin and London.

From the start of her career, her frankness about sex and her clear-eyed portrayal of the darker, more bigoted sides of Irish life made her relationship with her homeland fraught.

Defending her latest choice of subject matter she said, "every book has to be deeper".

"I couldn't have written that story unless it triggered fears, incarceration, punishments and maybe worse inside myself."

Meridian Masterpiece is broadcast on BBC World Service at 2205 GMT on Sunday.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Edna O'Brien speaks to Meridian Masterpiece
"The decision to go into this book wasn't blithely undertaken"
See also:

30 May 02 | Entertainment
29 May 02 | Entertainment
01 Feb 02 | Entertainment
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