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The Little Red Chairs

3.25  ·  Rating details ·  8,665 ratings  ·  1,405 reviews
The much-anticipated new novel from the literary world's master of storytelling, Edna O'Brien.

A woman discovers that the foreigner she thinks will redeem her life is a notorious war criminal.

Vlad, a stranger from Eastern Europe masquerading as a healer, settles in a small Irish village where the locals fall under his spell. One woman, Fidelma McBride, becomes so enamored t
Hardcover, 299 pages
Published March 29th 2016 by Little Brown and Company (first published October 27th 2015)
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Average rating 3.25  · 
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 ·  8,665 ratings  ·  1,405 reviews

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Dec 12, 2015 rated it did not like it
This book is a mess and I am puzzled by the many laudatory reviews, especially those in the newspapers, where it seems to be taken for granted that O’Brien can do no wrong. I found this a very flawed novel indeed. Ambitious certainly, and I can see that in addressing the problem of evil and the repercussions of the Balkan wars her intentions are admirable. But just because something's worth writing about doesn’t automatically make a novel successful. Divided into three unequal parts, it tells of ...more
Nov 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
When Vlad, an Eastern European, turns up in a small Irish village, he certainly stirs it out of its lethargy. He becomes known as The Doctor after setting himself up as a healer, and, being the Svengali figure that he is, he soon has the whole village under his spell, particularly the women. They are soon to discover however, that this charming man is a wanted war criminal.

Fidelma McBride falls for his charms completely, she's besotted, but it will lead her into danger and change her life comple
Julie Christine
Edna O'Brien's novels were once censored in her native Ireland. The graphic nature of her subject matter—the violent, shameful, behind-closed-doors reality of Irish rural and religious life—have shocked and scandalized since her fiction debut, The Country Girls in 1960. Now eighty-five, she continues to challenge our notions of innocence and guilt, of sex and desire, of politics and prose. The Little Red Chairs, her first novel in ten years, is classic O'Brien: terrible and beautiful, unsentimen ...more
Julie Ehlers
I usually try not to write plot summaries in my reviews, but in the case of this novel I think a brief one is necessary if I'm going to explain how I felt about it. However, unlike the publisher in the marketing blurb, I will try not to spoil the whole thing for the reader.

The Little Red Chairs begins in a small Irish town full of quirky small-town types, like Stars Hollow but with more nuns. A mysterious stranger named Vlad shows up and sets up shop as a "healer," with botanical remedies and ma
Mar 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
Red, as in Scarlet, Raging.., Bloody..., Ireland Warning: contains one of the most diabolical, horrendous acts of sexual violence against a female in all literature.


You live in a quaint, if a little busybody, Irish hamlet, a beauty swept off her feet by a much older man, walking down the aisle in your well-earned white wedding dress. 15, 20 years pass in your nice little humdrum life with your husband, yet your clock is ticking and his dock ain't kicking.

A very distinguished, intrigu
Diane S ☔
Awesome writing, original idea for a plot, plucking the Butcher of Sarajevo down in a small Irish Village. Alas, after reading 50% I am abandon,g this one. I am too much of a wimpy reader, and the third very graphic description of violence has done me in. Others with stronger stomachs may take this on but not for me.
lark benobi
This is a terrible book with ludicrous characters BUT it's terrible in a really good way, and the ludicrous characters are never boring. It's as if master storyteller O'Brien were a master jazz pianist sitting down blindfolded in front of a deeply out of tune piano--it still sounds terrific. She riffs on anything she pleases, writing on and on about inconsequential trivia about characters who have no point being in this story. It feels like O'Brien just let any skinny bit of thought that came in ...more
Ron Charles
Feb 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Edna O’Brien’s chilling new novel inspired by the life of Radovan Karadzic arrives just as the Butcher of Bosnia has finally been sentenced to 40 years in prison for genocide. If Karadzic’s long-delayed punishment brings some element of resolution to the Bosnian civil war, O’Brien’s novel picks at that war’s scars, forcing us to feel the lingering, outlying disfigurement wreaked by an evil man.

Europeans are more likely than Americans to catch the poignant allusion in O’Brien’s title, “The Little
Mar 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Suzy by: Newest Literary Fiction Group - Sept 2016 group read
I finished this book with tears in my eyes, moved by its depth and the unexpected places it took me. There is a dreamlike quality to O’Brien’s storytelling. We are immediately dropped into the small and somewhat isolated Irish Village of Cloonoila, where one winter’s day, seemingly out of nowhere, a larger-than-life man arrives. This unusual man is a poet and new age healer who seems just what’s needed to add some spark to the lives of the villagers. But the new arrival, Vladimir Dragan, is also ...more
Nov 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Excellent and ambitious novel. My first by O'Brien...definitely not my last. I am grateful to Constant Reader for this having been a group selection.

The title of this book is explained at the outset which definitely flavors one's reading.

On the 6th of April 2012, to commemorate the
twentieth anniversary of the start of the siege
of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serb forces, 11,541 red
chairs,were laid out in rows along the eight
hundred metres of the Sarajevo high street.
One empty chair for every Saraje
Natalie Richards
I`m not really sure how I feel about this book. In parts shocking and brutal but written in such an emotionless way. Having never read Edna O`Brien before I don`t know her writing style but have to say this was not for me. I couldn`t connect to anyone and for me to love a book that`s what I have to do. ...more

Just random notes:

The Bosnian war. Brutal, barbaric, shocking. Graphic.

The mores and values of an Irish community: good and bad.

A naive woman falls in love with a monster. She faces the consequences.

London: war refugees from different countries relate their stories.

A trial in The Hague concludes the book.

And I just close the book exhausted, traumatized, and walk away, just as unsentimental as the author presented the tale.

I need some air.
Nov 29, 2020 rated it it was ok
Though this is the O’Brien I own, it probably shouldn’t have been the first I read. The premise seemed promising, but I could never get a handle on its style, and I don’t know if it’s indicative of her earlier work.

The initial encounters of the main character, Fidelma, with the men who use and abuse her, came across to me as contrived. Her suffering at the hands of three brutes is real and horrific, but I question her willingness to go off with them as easily, and as innocently, as she does. Th
Apr 19, 2019 rated it liked it
This book is a beautifully written mess. (Or it could just be me and my current lack of focus). O'Brien explores the impact of an evil man on a woman who is drawn into his seductive charm. I kept losing track of the scattered narrative. I listened to the audiobook, read by one of my favorite narrators, Juliet Stevenson, and I was constantly rewinding. This novel contains bursts of brilliance but just didn't coalesce for me. ...more
William Koon
Dec 17, 2015 rated it it was ok
Edna O’Brien tackles some tough problems. One, she tries to make sense of the modern world. She does a great job –as she has in the past—in showing the Ireland she knew as bigoted, small, and repressive. (I read her aurobiography last year, The Country Girl and enjoyed it.) In this novel, she creates an almost clichéd cast of characters: the unsatisfied middle aged house wife, the boozy and friendly publican. There’s no whore with a heart of gold, but there is a nun with a heart of gold. Now the ...more
Carol -  Reading Writing and Riesling
My View:
On the menu tonight; contemporary fiction deconstructed! What an interesting way to present a story! There are multiple points of views - the roll call includes the voices of individual characters and of the disenfranchised, the victims and survivors of many acts of atrocities in many regions and finally we hear the true voice of perpetrator when being held to account for his actions. The pace is erratic – unsettling but eventually compelling. Violence, love and compassion share the page
Jul 31, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audible
3.5 stars

Wow this is a tough one to rate. At 15% I almost abandoned this. Then I saw in another readers review that Juliet Stevenson was the audiobook narrator. As she is my favorite female narrator I decided to give the audio a go. I have seen several reviews that comment on the brutality of this and it is horribly brutal but that isn't why I was having problems. This reads (especially in the beginning) like a series of short stories or vignettes. The prose is breathtaking I had to rewind sever
Apr 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Edna O'Brien's haunting new novel, her first in 10 years, draws its title from its epigraph: “On the 6th of April 2012, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the start of the siege of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serb forces, 11,541 red chairs were laid out in rows along the 800 meters of the Sarajevo high street. One empty chair for every Sarajevan killed during the 1,425 days of siege. Six hundred and forty-three small chairs represented the children killed by snipers and the heavy artillery fired fro ...more
Susan Johnson
Jan 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
I waited three months on my library's waiting list to get this book and I am glad I did. I found it to be a very moving story about people who have lost everything and must find a new home and a new way to survive. It reminded me very much of Louise Erdrich's LaRose where people who have experienced tragedy must find a way to make a new life.

Fidelma McBride is a poor young woman who marries up. The exchange of a new position in life for marriage is not a satisfactory one for her. She falls und
May 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Little Red Chairs begins in a small Irish village where Fidelma, a restless beauty, falls in love with the mysterious stranger, Vlad, a self-proclaimed "healer" who appears seemingly from nowhere. Fidelma, dissatisfied with her life and her marriage, begs Vlad to help her conceive a child. After she becomes pregnant, it is discovered that Vlad is an infamous war criminal (from the Bosnian war). She is brutally tortured by his enemies and rejected by her husband and the town in which she has ...more
Nancy Oakes
Jan 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's tough to say everything I want to about this novel, because there's so much here worth talking about that I don't even know where to begin or how to condense my thoughts on this book into a goodreads-sized post. As much as I hate to do this, I think I'll link to my reading journal where I just begin to scratch its surface. No spoilers, and I will not divulge any more than is on the dustjacket blurb.

I will say that despite a few issues with this novel, I was completely engrossed in this boo
Nov 11, 2015 rated it did not like it
As a child of the fifties, and devout lapsed Catholic, I of course love much of Edna O'Brien's work and The Country Girls was really important to me. I found much to love, too, in the first part of this book where a war criminal lands up in a small Irish town filled with typical O'Brien characters, including Fidelma, who is one of the Country Girls grown up and married to one of those older, miserable husbands O'Brien specialises in. The way everyone gets on with, and is even excited by, a truly ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Well, this book was disappointing. I have read several books set in the former Yugoslavia, all better than this book. (The Cellist of Sarajevo, The Tiger's Wife, People of the Book, etc.)

It was like the author couldn't decide what kind of book to write, so she combined seemingly disparate elements that really are disparate for a reason! The little red chairs set up in Sarajevo to commemorate the dead. A small town in Ireland with a gossip mill. Immigration and poverty. Single parenting. Abortion
Nov 28, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 1-star
What did I just read??
I received the book for free from NetGalley and started reading it without any prior knowledge of it (or the genre or the author) whatsoever.

I didn't get it at all -and literary fiction is my favourite genre! Can someone please explain what was going on? Poor, fake "oirish" accent, some bizzarre New Age healing and stupid writing. I will now read some reviews of it, trying to make sense of it all.
Before beginning this book, I didn’t know the reference for the title is the 11,541 red chairs that were set up in the streets of Sarajevo in 2012 to mark the passage of 20 years since the siege of Sarajevo. The loss of children was represented by 643 small chairs. The New York Times review by Joyce Carol Oates refers to the violence of a faraway war intruding on the “primal innocence, lost to most places in the world” of rural Ireland. Not only Ireland, but the United States, and many parts of ...more
Mar 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016, audio
This is a tough one.

O'Brien writes so beautifully. Her prose in Juliet Stevenson's mouth is a literary apotheosis; it is impossible not to give that performance all your attention and all your respect. This book often seems more like vignettes than a conventional novel, yet each of these miniatures leaps off the "page" (what is the audio equivalent? "Leaps off the app" just sounds wrong!), each one could be the seed, it seems, of a whole novel.

As others have said, there are scenes of violence s
Sep 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
The Little Red Chairs tells the story of Fidelma, an inhabitant of an Irish village who completely falls for a stranger, Dr Vlad. Fidelma starts an affair with him and even wants to have his child. There's something mysterious about Dr Vlad from the beginning and it is soon reveiled that he is a war criminal and Europe's most wanted man. He is discovered and captured quite soon. Things would have progressed quite differently for Fidelma if she wasn't pregnant with his child. She is tortured by h ...more
Apr 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Installment #5 of my tale of the April reading slump.

This is the book that liberated me from the slump and in fact started me off on a reading streak of great books. This review was originally published at

What if a war criminal appeared in your town and passed himself off as a poet and holistic healer? What if your town was a small isolated place and the man is handsome in a brooding mysterious way? It could happen that he would be secretly sought after by women with private tr
Oct 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Many might be surprised that Edna O’ Brien has made these events the basis for her latest novel; The Little Red Chairs which is both beautiful and brutal. Written with O’Brien’s captivating, lyrical prose – this novel is both haunting and compelling, with this novel she shows herself to be a novelist still at the top of her game. Her descriptive powers remain sublime; it is with a keenly observant eye that she shows us both rural Ireland, and the London sprawl of dual carriageways, refugee centr ...more
Jul 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: irish-authors
The word’s that come to mind when describing this book would be “wolf in sheep's clothing”. A new healer comes to town and the people are taking in by this hippy. One woman becomes entangle and the aftermath for her is life changing.

Note: My lovely home town gets a mentation in this novel but the spelling is a little different.

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Edna O’Brien is 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 Medal from ...more

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