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The O'Briens

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  1,291 ratings  ·  175 reviews
The O'Brien's follows the family from The Law of Dreams two generations later: Joe O'Brien is coming of age in a new century in remote Pontiac County, Quebec, with his brothers and sisters by his side.

Their father has abandoned the family and died in the South African war; their frail mother has remarried the abusive and lecherous Mick Heaney. Joe and his siblings escape
Hardcover, 528 pages
Published 2011 by House of Anansi Press (first published January 1st 2008)
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Average rating 3.59  · 
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 ·  1,291 ratings  ·  175 reviews

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Jun 19, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: family
I'm surprised I actually finished this book. I didn't feel like I connected with any of the characters. all of the compelling storylines were never fleshed out. Why was isault in love with the yogi? I didn't even know how she felt about joe going off on benders until she up and left him. Was margot a raving alcoholic? What happened between grattan and his wife? What was she going thru when grattan was off doing whatever? by the end I just wanted to be done with it.
Julie Christine
It would seem the greater the sweep of history encompassed by a novel, the more confined the writer. The facts of history are many and easily called out, the settings, characters and dialogue are well-defined by their eras and the more years a story covers, the shallower the characters can become as they are stretched and diluted by time.

It is, therefore, deeply satisfying to read a saga as intimate and profound as The O'Briens. Peter Behrens is a master of the art of storytelling. He
Apr 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Writing a saga that spans 70 years is not the easiest thing in the world. There’s always a balancing act: how much “play” to give each of the many characters, what events to spotlight, how to believably depict the changing of time.

Peter Behrens, fortunately, is a word craftsman and, in elegant and cinematic language, captures the agony and the ecstasy, the fortune of loss of the O’Brien family. We meet eventual patriarch Joe O’Brien early on, in Pontiac County, Quebec. His father has died at
Steven Buechler
Sep 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful epic. It kept me glued all weekend long.

-page 372
"They shared a double bed on that train, his body heat provoking a mash of feelings in her, mostly anger, resentment. He was trying to annihilate her. Putting on a wrapper, she spent the first night and most of the next in the lounge car in an armchair, reading The Good Earth. They took meals in the dining car and she brought the novel to the table. Joe gazed out at the long yellow agricultural valleys of Oregon and Washington, where
Aug 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
Well - that was disappointing. What started out as a great premise with a couple of very strong characters seemed to peter out to loosely (or not at all, in some cases) vignettes in the life of some members of this family. Scenes which may have been important vanished into the text with no follow-up, as did some of the characters. The ones we were left with were sketchy, to say the least, with little indication given to their motivation or reasoning.
I think this could have been a great book -
Lorna Driscoll
Jul 02, 2012 rated it did not like it
man oh man......why do people write 500 pages of such rambling drivel.....(and why did I stick it out?) I guess I thought it might get better at the end, but it got worse! And all this from an author who was a GG award winner. I don't get it! What am I missing?
Jul 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
Couldn't wait for it to be over. Found it read like an expensive meal where your still hungry afterwards. Invested in the characters, but not enough real meat to satiate. Kept waiting for something to happen. Spoiler never does!
Allen Adams
Oct 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing

This is a saga that warrants your attention. This is a story whose quiet brilliance can’t be ignored. It’s an intimate epic, if that makes sense – a portrait of an entire world through the lens of a single bloodline. All the joy and passion, all the anger and fear, all the love and loss involved in simply living and being – that’s what Peter Behrens has captured with “The O’Briens.”

The story of the O’Brien family would make for wonderful reading in any
Steven Langdon
I was very much looking forward to reading this new Peter Behrens novel, "The O"Briens," and it did turn out to be one of those family saga books that I enjoy, tracing the life of Joe O'Brien, his brothers (Grattan and Tom,) and Joe's family over the almost 70 years. Behrens writes well, and his descriptions of the Ottawa Valley, the New York of 1910, the B.C. mountain passes, the California coast and urbanizing Montreal are vivid and clear. On balance, though, the novel left me somewhat ...more
Mar 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Cheri by: JRG
Epic family story spanning from pre-turn-of-the-century to the 1960s, Peter Behrens tells not only the story of The O'Briens, but the story of America and the changes both endure through those ages. Beautifully written, Behrens digs deep into the heart and soul of each character.

"Frankie wondered if what she was feeling could be called grief. People would say it was, of course they would, but it was hard to collate her feelings into a single noun. Grief suggested a stately music that her
Bonnie Brody
Mar 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
The O'Briens is a family saga that extends from 1887 through 1960 covering three generations of the O'Brien family. As the novel starts, Joe O'Brien is a second generation Irishman living in rural Canada with his mother and drunken stepfather. Joe has served as a parental child since his earliest years, taking care of his siblings due to his mother's fragile state of health and his desire to keep his brothers and sisters protected from his stepfather. At one point, when he finds out that his ...more
Mar 19, 2012 rated it liked it
A really well done family saga is hard to find and must be hard to write. This one comes close, but in the end misses the mark. With that said, there is still enough here to make some honest recommendations to historical literary fiction readers.
I've been thinking a lot about characters lately and what makes or breaks a character. It isn't that you want to hang out with them, or that you always identify with them. But there has to be enough meat of the character to sympathize with them and find
RoseMary Achey
May 22, 2012 rated it liked it
This novel follows three generations of an Irish Catholic Canadian family. When Joe O’Brien’s father dies he assumes responsibility for his mother and four brothers and sisters at the age of 14. Joe protects and cares for his family and dreams of a future beyond the rugged Canadian wilderness. Joe has a keen sense of business and does build a thriving commercial construction concern. This portion of the book is by far the best. The next generation-Joe’s three children and their lives were not as ...more
Sep 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars - I really enjoyed this epic Canadian novel about a young Irish Canadian who makes a good life for himself and his family through hard work and dedication. A part of the story is about the building of the railroad in British Columbia and the very tough circumstances encountered. The story takes the reader from the 1880's in Quebec through the two world wars and into the sixties.

I am about to start reading the prequel, The Law of Dreams, about the Obrien family immigration to Canada
May 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Wonderfully paced fictional family ,the Obrien's, from late 1800's to 1960's. Moves along at a perfect pace with the main charcter, Joe Obrien, sometimes taking a backseat while other family members' stories are told. Good depiction of the various time periods, esp. WW I and WW II. Only complaint is a great deal of phrases in French and not always a translation. Not sure if it was to add authenticity or not but my limited French had me wondering at times if I was missing something crucial to the ...more
Mar 06, 2013 rated it did not like it
This book was a disappointment to me. I felt none of the characters were developed, it jumped so many years ahead it was as if the people had no life for a 20 year period. It took me over 3 weeks to get through it and it was one of those things where you keep thinking this story has to take hold any page now. It never gripped me and was boring to the very last page. It is a 2012 Great Group Reads, but it doesn't seem like it has much of a story for a book club. Thumbs down from me.
Raimo Wirkkala
Jul 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is a family saga with a sweep of just over 60 years, spanning the first half of the 20th century. It moves briskly and I found it impossible to put down for the last 150 pages or so. Behrens does much better with character development here than he did with his first novel, "The Law of Dreams". The female characters, in particular, fare better this time. You may not like the main character, Joe O'Brien, but by the end of the novel you will respect him.
Jan 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
I've read great family sagas, and this one isn't one of them. It is cumbersome and follows a worn out model. Poor wretch makes it big in the world, everyone comes to hate him including his family. Industrial giant misunderstood and maligned by those he has vowed to love and save. Unclear ending in the fog and the whole book left me in a fog.
Mary Alaga
Jan 12, 2015 rated it it was ok
All I can say is, I'm glad I wasn't depressed when I read this. The story spans 60 years and in all that time, Joe and Isult can count, on one hand, how many times they enjoyed their life together. Isult seems to spend her time wondering if she should have married Joe, and Joe seems to plug along, being successful in business and that's all.
Dec 29, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
I liked the characters and their stories the further along in the book I read. I normally finish a book in spite of not liking, however in this case I gave up at 67%. I just don't care how it ends.
Mar 16, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: let-downs
First 1/4 was promising. Then it seemed to turn into a romance novel.
Jill Hennegan
Jun 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I didn't know this was a sequel to a previous book. I will now read the first one!
Apr 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: peter-behrens
Until I got to the end, 'The O'Briens' was quickly moving to the top of my all time favorite novel list. The language is rich and descriptive. The characters are believable. The pace was just right. But when I figuratively turned the last page, I felt as if I fell off a cliff.

Part of the problem is mine. I was reading an e-book version. Had I been reading a "real" book, the dwindling pages would have been a solid clue that I was nearing the end. But to be fair, I am not sure that the physical
John Benson
Feb 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
I had not realized this was a sequel to Peter Behrens earlier book, until I saw the blurb here on Goodreads. I had read his latest novel and liked it, but I liked this one better. It follows Joe O'Brien and his descendants as they live their lives in Canada and California during the first half of the twentieth century. All of the family characters are real and flawed characters, but the good in each comes through as well. The book does not so much have a plot but is a history of the struggles of ...more
Catherine Russell
Feb 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book was delicious! I could hardly wait to bite off another chuck and slowly savour the charcters, the settings, the history, and what was going on and what was going to happen next!!

I won't say anymore except that this was one of the best books I have read in a long time!

Catherine Russell
Karen Sofarin
Mar 06, 2019 rated it liked it
Irish-American book and highlights the trauma of poverty and how long it etches us. I did not particularly like these well-written characters but that is often true for me with grim but compelling Irish tales.

NorthEastener folks,and those hailing from Canada, might well find much that is familiar in these pages. Covering time period from 1930s and through WW 2,we a follow the lives of the OBrien family
Andrea Robinson
Jun 12, 2018 rated it liked it
I wanted more history. It was ok, not what I was expecting. More about the family than history.
Janice Tolifson
Joe and his siblings were very poor but Joe became a successful business man and it's about his life and family. Very good read. Didn't want to put it down.
Dec 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Family saga of a Canadian family. Very enjoyable. Spans about a hundred years, from the 1870's.
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Peter Behrens is author of three novels: THE LAW OF DREAMS (Steerforth/Random House); THE O'BRIENS (Pantheon), and CARRY ME (forthcoming Feb 2016, from Pantheon (US) & Anansi (Canada)). Also 2 collection sof short stories, NIGHT DRIVING (Macmillan) and TRAVELING LIGHT (Astoria). Behrens held a prestigious Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University. He was born in Montreal and is currently a ...more
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“Marriage is a mystery.” 3 likes
“He had seen men nearly killed in fights and logging accidents, but his mother’s was the first corpse he had seen, and apart from its stillness what struck him was how fragile, insubstantial, and temporary her body seemed. Ellenora’s struggles and losses, her hard work and suffering, had developed from meagre flesh and sinew, a collection of fragile bones. It seemed extraordinary that a body could house the energy a mind produced, the secret powers to love and hate, forget and remember.” 0 likes
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