Executive Times






2007 Book Reviews


The Light of Evening by Edna O’Brien




(Mildly Recommended)




Click on title or picture to buy from amazon.com






Edna O’Brien’s latest novel, The Light of Evening, presents the complicated relationship between a mother and daughter with lyrical language and deep grief and sadness. The mother, Dilly, is dying of cancer, and reflects on her life. Having left rural Ireland in the 1920s for America, she returned home after a failed relationship. Her daughter, Eleanora, flees rural Ireland for England, where she becomes a successful writer, marries, divorces, and pursues multiple affairs, to the displeasure and envy of Dilly. Here’s an excerpt, all of the chapter titled, “Exile,” pp. 80-82, including a letter from Dilly’s mother:


It would be a row over a biscuit or a comb that was missing. The truth was they did not want me there. I was an extra person and an extra body in the bed. In return for my lodgings I did the laundry and ironing, all the cleaning and sewing for Betty, who was mad for style. Betty was boss, a big girl with big feet and big hands, always making novenas because her hair was falling out and she feared that no man would want to marry a bald woman.

Nan was the most money-minded. One evening she came home jubilant because a workman carrying a ladder had hit her by accident, struck her close to her eye, and she had insisted there and then on compensation. It was a dollar. It was put under an ink bottle to be smoothed out because it had been folded many times inside his pocket. I never knew what to expect. Sometimes they were friendly and sometimes not. All four of us slept in the one bed, two at the bottom and two at the top. All of us tossed and turned and raved in our sleep.

They would drop hints for my benefit about the landlady threatening to raise the rent, on account of an extra person, the extra person being me. Other times they would be all pie. Nan gave me a cardigan, a purple cardigan with knitted violets that served as buttons, said the buttons got on her nerves because of the way they never stayed shut. A week later she asked for it back. It was nothing but moods, moods.

Then one evening when I got back from the convent where I worked part-time my clothes were in a bundle on the step, my name in big print on a label on top. At first I thought it was a joke, but when I examined it I saw that every stitch I owned was in there, my pleated skirt, my good shoes, laddered stockings, my brush and comb, my prayer book, everything. They were telling me to go. It was the month of May and there was a magnolia tree in bloom in the garden. The blinds inside the house were drawn, all the blinds, the way they are when someone has died. I reckoned they had conferred with other lodgers and had done it as a team. It did something to me. I stood there and called up, thinking that one of them would come down and, seeing I had no one to turn to, would take pity on me and let me back. No one came.

In the waxen flower of the magnolia that was wide as a saucer, a tawny bee fed itself on the saffron threads and I thought, I’ll never forget this moment, the hum of the bee, the saffron threads of the flower, the drawn blinds, nature’s assiduousness and human cruelty.



Dear Dilly,

Black and Tans and their elite brothers in terror called here two nights back, they burst in with blackened faces, seven or eight of them and I had to make a dive for my life. Your father had his hands and feet bound while they searched. Having failed to find your brother I had to act as candle bearer, going around the house while they rooted in drawers and presses, everything skiving out and then one said to the gang leader, a big tall fellow with a military cast, said, “C’mon, Reg, there’s nothing here” and the leader struck him and used the most terrible language because of his name being said. They do not want their names known for fear of reprisal, but it is creatures like us that the reprisals are vented on, hay and crops burned, animals slaughtered, taking revenge on families that they sus­pect have housed the volunteers. Shops and business prem­ises have been set fire to. Even a doctor that rendered medi­cal aid to a wounded volunteer had his automobile burned and he is frightened for his life. A man beyond Tulla that was a known sympathizer was taken out of his house along with his wife and children, then the house set fire to and the man thrown back into it, his wife and children looking on and the gang shouting, “Let him fry, let him fry.” They were drunk as they so often are.               

Write to me, in God s name, write to me.



The stream of consciousness from Dilly’s deathbed can be a challenge to read, and the shift in narrators can be distracting. The Light of Evening tells a story of estrangement, sometimes at the price of estranging the reader. The sadness and loneliness of the lives presented on these pages can be difficult to absorb, and there is always a depth to the power of the relationship between a mother and daughter. The Light of Evening is a study in contrasts, in the hands of a fine writer. Patient and willing readers will be rewarded.


Steve Hopkins, April 25, 2007



Buy The Light of Evening

@ amazon.com

Go To Hopkins & Company Homepage



Go to 2007 Book Shelf

Go to Executive Times Archives


Go to The Big Book Shelf: All Reviews





*    2007 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the May 2007 issue of Executive Times


URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/The Light of Evening.htm


For Reprint Permission, Contact:

Hopkins & Company, LLC • 723 North Kenilworth AvenueOak Park, IL 60302
Phone: 708-466-4650 • Fax: 708-386-8687

E-mail: books@hopkinsandcompany.com