Girl with Green Eyes by Edna O’Brien

Penguin, copyright page has 1964 but this edition is a later reprint, 211 p. First published in 1962 as The Lonely Girl.

Girl with Green Eyes cover

This second part of O’Brien’s trilogy sees Caithleen Brady not really having learned the lesson of her infatuation with Mr Gentleman in The Country Girls. On one of her nights out with her friend Baba in Dublin (where she has lodgings and a job) she meets Eugene Gaillard and immediately finds him attractive. He is of course much older than her but she does not find out till a bit later he has a past which includes a wife and a child. Nevertheless she allows herself to be taken to his home in the country for weekends but only after several false starts (one visit being interrupted by her drunk of a father coming mob-handed to the house and assaulting Eugene) does she finally lose her virginity to him. Even her chance encounter with Mr Gentleman, where she is dismissed more or less curtly, does not forewarn her of the dangers of intimacy on such terms.

She finds the exposure of her background embarrassing and later Eugene characterises her (and by implication rural Ireland) as bred in “Stone Age ignorance and religious savagery.” Eugene’s wife turns the screw by threatening to prevent contact with his child and Caithleen fatally gives him an ultimatum.

Her experiences do give her insight though, “it is only with our bodies that we ever really forgive one another; the mind pretends to forgive, but it harbours and re-remembers in moments of blackness,” but the situation cannot hold. “Up to then I thought that being one with him in bed meant being one with him in life, but I knew now that I was mistaken, and that lovers are strangers, in between times.” Yet she still hopes Eugene will come to rescue her.

Pedant’s corner:- haemorridge (x2, haemorrhage,) a missing comma before a piece of direct speech (many times,) salame (salami,) sprung (sprang,) “a tick in his right cheek,) (tic,) “the Miss Walkers” (the Misses Walker,) “The inside of my lips were covered with water blisters” (The inside … was covered with … .)

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