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In the Forest

3.6  ·  Rating Details ·  972 Ratings  ·  99 Reviews
Based on a horrendous true crime, IN THE FOREST is the story of Mich O'Kane -- 'not all there in the head' it's said -- who shoots three people dead in the woods of Ireland. Edna O'Brien traces the events that lead to such horror. Mich O'Kane hears voices; he cannot stop mourning the death of his mother. Theft and other crimes lead him to a Christian Brothers borstal, then ...more
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published April 22nd 2002 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (first published January 1st 2002)
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The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar WildeAngela's Ashes by Frank McCourtDubliners by James JoyceThe Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats by W.B. YeatsUlysses by James Joyce
Best Irish Literature
94th out of 439 books — 531 voters
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Community Reviews

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Sep 22, 2016 Fabian rated it it was amazing
My favorite movie of all time is 1978's "Halloween," and this book has all the elements which, to me, seem essential in a modern horror. Rob Zombie tried to justify the killer's motive in the new version of that film, and pretty much messed the story up. Edna O'Brien, on the other hand, an amazing voice very particular about understating things and giving veneer to objects both alive and not, merges motive and magic. (The woods themselves are a character, perhaps the very main one.)

A man goes be
I started into this novel with the wrong idea, thinking it would be a murder mystery—instead, I found a kind of murder documentary and it took me a while to get my mindset altered to properly appreciate it. I’m not sure I actually achieved that switch in outlook.

Based on an actual person and the murders he committed, In the Forest charts a life that has run off the rails. O’Kane starts life with mental illness, losing his mother, being brutalized by his father, and ending up in custody where thi
Several years ago, when I was first introduced to the work of the great Irish writer, Edna O’Brien, I immediately fell in love with the savage and poetic "word pictures" she paints. Her writing never fails to draw me in, emotionally and intellectually, on the very first page, and it really never lets me go. Edna O’Brien’s writing is writing that stays with me - resonating, enchanting, mesmerizing - long after I’ve read the final page.

O’Brien’s novel, In the Forest, is based on a true story that
Mar 22, 2015 Chris rated it really liked it
I found this to be a strange novel because while I wasn’t grabbed by the plot, I was engrossed by the style. O’Brien’s prose is, in fact, lush, and she quite easily moves between points of view without confusing the reader. Her voice changes as she adopts different characters. The use of multi-view narrative to tell a tragic story of a mentally ill person who does not really elicit sympathy because of his language and actions combined with the people surrounding him who live in a combination of ...more
Jun 18, 2012 Julie rated it it was amazing
Set in western Ireland, this novel is based a story of terror that took place in Ireland in 1994. It is a disturbing and devastating story of a mass murderer- from his tragic childhood to the height of his murder spree- and the community that seems helpless to stop him, or worse- that unwittingly aids him in his crime spree. It shows a society in denial of the abuse of children in detention and in school, easily abandoning its own, and unwilling to believe that they have unleashed a monster.

Scarlett Helena
Jan 14, 2013 Scarlett Helena rated it it was amazing
Although Edna O'Brien got a lot of negative feedback in regard to this novel from the loved ones of the murder victims, (who the story is based around) as well as from the public, something about this book is always going to stay with me. O'Brien manages to hold the reader's attention effortlessly with the way she tackled the many different perspectives of those portrayed in this work. This is the first time I have read a book that alternates between the mindsets of each personality so candidly ...more
Nov 03, 2013 Cynthia rated it really liked it
Shelves: the-list
This was mostly a murder mystery, based on a true story. Trigger warnings: violence, animal abuse, a child dies. Not terribly grisly, mostly psychological thriller.

The families of the real life murder victims were reportedly not happy with O'Brien's fictional account of their loved ones' lives and deaths. She never said she was reporting, but instead basing her story on a very tragic real-life event. Still, in their place, I would probably not be happy either.
Dec 19, 2015 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Based very loosely on a true story, this follows paranoid schizophrenic Michen O'Kane as he murders a mother and child, then the priest that he summoned to give them the last rites, before finally the guarda (cops) close in. The book falls into three very (very) roughly equal parts: (1) the back stories of both Michen and his first two victims, Eily and her toddler son Maddie; (2) the crimes and the manhunt; (3) the aftermath, as Michen goes on trial and descends ever deeper into his alienation ...more
Vivian Valvano
Aug 24, 2011 Vivian Valvano rated it it was amazing
This is the novel that gave O'Brien so much trouble b/c she was prompted to write it by a real and gruesome murder case in the 1990s. She was accosted by legions of people for using a painful tragedy to create a novel. On that topic: I have always believed that no one has the right to tell an author what to write, and if O'Brien wished to build a fictional narrative, having known of and researched a real crime, she had every right to do so. And, of course, she's never been one to run away from c ...more
Nov 12, 2011 Larraine rated it really liked it
Moody, even "Gothic" (as at least one reviewer suggested), this novel tells the story of three horrific murders in West Ireland countryside. Based on a true story, it recounts the story of a young man who was locked away in a juvenile facility, subject to horrific abuse both sexual and otherwise, who now returns to his home town to wreak revenge. He is obviously mentally ill. There is no sympathy for him and a lot of fear. The local constabulary is afraid of him. Soon he sets his sights on a you ...more
Aug 09, 2016 Jeff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jeff by: Thomas Foster's How to Read Novels Like a Professor
Beautiful descriptions (and i usually feel like i'm slogging through a novel if it has this much descriptiveness about objects and places) and a great array of voices tell the story of a murderer and his crime and the place where it happened and the people it happened to.

Compare this Irish novel of murder with Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman and John Banville's The Book of Evidence.

Highly recommended for anybody who loves good writing; anybody who wonders not only what madness might be like
Julie Carson
Sep 07, 2011 Julie Carson rated it really liked it
A very different type of book to my usual ones. I nearly put it down after the first few chapters due to the style of writing, as I found it hard to follow jumping from character to character with no narrative explanation. However; if you feel tempted to stop part way through then do not! Keep going with it, as it turns out to be an excellent read. It is harrowing, and I was left feeling pretty hollow when I'd finished it, especially with the knowledge it was based on a true story, but it is so ...more
Mar 02, 2015 Maryann rated it liked it
Shelves: 1001
This story really happened. Maybe not quite the way O'Brien relays it, but it's true. A woman and her child were abducted and murdered, and then a priest was taken and killed soon after, all by a young man who heard voices and exhibited lots of signs of mental illness. He had been placed in institutions early in his life and suffered horrific abuse at the hands of authorities. Does this make him less responsible for his crimes? Is he a victim as well?

I found this book compelling. I'm a mental h
Tami Lynn Andrew
Feb 27, 2008 Tami Lynn Andrew rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-list
This book was written the way I wrote horror novels when I was in the 4th grade and I was obsessed with R.L. Stine. Except less engrossing.
I have no idea why anyone would list this as a good book, let alone on the "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die." The characters were completely undeveloped. I felt no pity for the victims, or the perpetrator, nor did I feel like O'Kane was even portrayed as a successful murderer or mental patient. He was sort of lame.
When I started reading it, I thought
Dannii Elle
This book draws the best of every genre into this utterly heartbreaking book. It has been years since I read this and I can still remember sobbing uncontrollably and pleading with the writer not to do what I knew she was about to do. And she did it!

This book gave me nothing but pain but I would read it again in a heartbeat.
Feb 29, 2016 Amy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I feel so-so about this book. I thought it was going to be more straightforward to read than it was. It took a bit of time to get used to the ambiguous writing style and different perspectives rather than being a straight-up crime drama.

I had trouble working out when the events were set. Sometimes it would seem like it was distant folklore, other times there were modern references. Also there were a lot of minor characters to get to grips with. Though I soon learned that people who appeared onc
Book Wormy
Mar 19, 2016 Book Wormy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 1001-read
In the Forest Edna O'Brien

Unfortunately I cannot write this review without giving away the story so if you havent read it look away now.


This is a novel is based on the real life murder of 3 people in County Clare a mother and son and a local clergyman, at the time of its publication O'Brien was accused of sensationalism and profiteering however there is nothing sensational about the way the killings are dealt with.

The point of view swaps with each new chapter so a cohesiv
Steve Chaput
Apr 13, 2010 Steve Chaput rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 02, 2011 Christie rated it liked it
Michael O’Kane is one of those troubled kids who slips through the cracks. After the death of his beloved mother, he gets into one increasingly more serious scrape after another until he is finally sent away. His stint in reform school is brutal and not even the priests offer solace.

O’Kane is the central character of Edna O’Brien’s riveting (and difficult) novel In the Forest. Reading this book reminded me a little bit of reading Joyce Carol Oates. I want to like Oates but I find her difficult
Ian Mapp
Oct 19, 2012 Ian Mapp rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 20, 2011 Elsje rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2003
Bij de bieb alleen het Nederlandstalige exemplaar van het boekgrrlsmaandboek van juni voorhanden. Nou ja, dat mag de pret niet drukken, dacht ik. Inderdaad, dat is niet van belang.

Het is een behoorlijk goede vertaling (al ken ik het origineel niet :-) ), maar pret? Nee, want wat een naar boek. En dan bedoel ik niet dat het een slecht boek is, in tegendeel, maar het verhaal is zo ijzingwekkend dat ik er niet van kon slapen. Het is overigens een whydunnit en geen whodunnit.

Ik las het terwijl ik vo
Feb 17, 2009 Jennifer rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people looking for literary true-crime, fans of suspense
Shelves: fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Stephanie "Jedigal"
Well, I was a little leery (?sp.) of this book after reading a friend's comment. But I liked it. Okay, parts of it were hard. A lot of parts. Perhaps the most disturbing thing is to peer into the mind of a crazy person, not enough to really know what it would be like to be crazy, but enough to be scared, and to wish to change it.

What I imagine, is an author who was aware of all the various and conflicting emotions and viewpoints in the community of the events that inspired the book. And her may
Tarah Luke
Jun 20, 2016 Tarah Luke rated it really liked it
#1001books #747left

This does an excellent job depicting mental illness and the damage it can inflict on a community/country when it is ignored and untreated. Again, people see and hear things, but do nothing to prevent awful, terrible things from happening. I'm not just talking about the police but the people from the villages who knew the guy and sat back because they were afraid he would come for them next. I understand cowardice. I truly do. But there are times in life when you really have to
Abigail Alyn
Aug 19, 2016 Abigail Alyn rated it it was amazing
An astonishingly daring approach to a difficult subject. While never turning away from the horror of the double murder of a mother and child (revealed in the first pages), O'Brien refuses to accept the easy labeling of its criminal subject as Monster or even Villain. "In the forest" names both a place of paradoxical beauty and terror (the scene of the crime) and a condition: the intractable need of a closed society to scapegoat its own violent impulses in The Other.
Jun 12, 2011 Katherine rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
"'Bastards. They said my mother was treated for depression...she was never depressed. She loved me. She knit me a jumper'" (36).
"'Yes, everyone thinks his or her own calling the most taxing'" (40).
“He drew nearer and nearer, his nose puttied to the window…” (76).
“…Lalla holds up her best present, a plastic wristwatch, the colour of raspberry cordial, and he licks it to show how much she loves it” (84).
“…walking in a closed knot, trampling their lit-up shadows…” (182).
“No one said so, but each fe
Mar 10, 2016 Val rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wpff-main
In April 1994 three people were killed in a forestry plantation. Eight years later Edna O'Brien published this novel and dedicated it to them.
Her writing is lyrical and mainly slow in pace, matching life in rural Ireland. The murderer in her book is an angry force bursting through the calm and also causing a few other less pleasant attitudes and actions to rise to the surface.
She does not sensationalise the events and her treatment of the female victim is more sympathetic than some of the press
Apr 28, 2010 Lenoir rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2010, 1001
First I think it's strange that I've read a book called In the Forest and I've also read a book called In the Woods and both are by female Irish writers. Anyways, the book was well written but strange. The point of view of the book changes rapidly and made it a bit hard to follow because it doesn't really give the reader much time to develop a relationship with any of the characters. The premise is that as a young boy Michen was sent away to a Catholic reform school for some petty crimes. He was ...more
Apr 05, 2010 Frank rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: irish-authors
Edna O'Brien's writing has a strange effect on me: it is extremely plain and simple, and yet it is compelling; I keep turning page-after-page, amazing myself at the speed with which the numbers pile up. She is not a great stylist, like William Trevor or John Banville; there are no sublime moments that make me sigh or weep, no turns of phrase that cause me to giggle with mirth at the shear joy of the language. And yet she always manages to hook me and hold me, even when the characters aren't part ...more
Kai Coates
A deranged criminal recently released from prison stalks the west Ireland countryside. A young single mother moves into a secluded cottage wanting to start anew. The story, based on real events, could have easily strayed into thriller territory. People jumping at unexpected noises and peering into the shadows to glimpse a madman's eyes. It doesn't (although that stuff is present). Instead, O'Brien crafts a magnificent look at evil. Evil of a system that took a petty criminal and turned him into ...more
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Edna O’Brien (b. 1930), an award-winning Irish author of novels, plays, and short stories, has been hailed as one of the greatest chroniclers of the female experience in the twentieth century. She is the 2011 recipient of the Frank O’Connor Prize, awarded for her short story collection Saints and Sinners. She has also received, among other honors, the Irish PEN Award for Literature, the Ulysses Me ...more
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“Darkness is drawn to light, but light does not know it; light must absorb the darkness and therefore meet its own extinguishment.” 1428 likes
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