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The Country Girls

(The Country Girls Trilogy #1)

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  4,140 ratings  ·  423 reviews
Meet Kate and Baba, two young Irish country girls who have spent their childhood together. As they leave the safety of their convent school in search of life and love in the big city, they struggle to maintain their somewhat tumultuous relationship. Kate, dreamy and romantic, yearns for true love, while Baba just wants to experience the life of a single girl. Although they ...more
Paperback, 175 pages
Published June 25th 2002 by Plume (first published 1960)
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IvanOpinion The book was so shocking in 1960 that it was banned. But this was because of the references to female sexuality and sex before marriage and a lack of …moreThe book was so shocking in 1960 that it was banned. But this was because of the references to female sexuality and sex before marriage and a lack of respect for parents and the church. To a modern reader, these aspects are so mild that it seems almost quaint. Only a few years later, writers like Jackie Collins were going much further.

Interestingly, the book is still shocking, but for reasons that I don't think bothered anyone at the time. To a current reader, surely Mr Gentleman is a paedophile? I'm not saying this is another Lolita. Mr G moves pretty slowly, so although he starts his grooming when Cait is 14 he only moves past kissing when she is 18. She is not being coerced or even coaxed. But this still crosses what we would see as a clear line, especially as it sounds as if he is at least in his 40s, if not older and he knows she is extremely vulnerable.

I don't think the author expected readers to share Cait's view that Mr G is the best thing that has happened to her. We are meant to see the relationship as inappropriate. But only because 'good girls' should resist the sexual advances of married middle aged men. Not because he is committing one of the worst moral crimes imaginable. There seems to be an acceptance in the book that this sort of thing went on and "men will be men".

Am I overreacting to think that if this book were published now it would be controversial because of its depiction of what we would now call grooming, especially as it is depicted from the enthusiastic perspective of the person being groomed, without any retrospective wisdom about what was happening? I'm not saying it would not be published, but I think it would cause a storm.

Even the nickname, 'Mr Gentleman', will seem highly ironic to a modern reader, but I'm not sure the irony was intended by the author. At least not for the same reasons.(less)

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Nandakishore Varma
Warning: Possible spoilers. Though I don't think they will spoil the reading experience, if you are one of those people who wants to dive into a book without knowing anything of the story, it might be better to avoid this review.

Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.


This quote is taken from Frank McCourt’s memoir Angela's Ashes, but it is equally apt for this novel by Edna O’Brien.

If we look at Ir
...more
Paul Bryant
Sep 30, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
A beautiful probably-autobiographical wee slip of a novel which reads more like a memoir about two Irish girls between the ages of 14 and 18 in which nothing much happens except ordinary poor country life stuff, the girls being bored witless and trying to grow up, the girls being righteously disgusted about what's on offer in the back of the Irish beyond in the early 50s before Elvis and rock & roll rewrote the rules, the girls putting up with drunk parents, bitter adults and useless boys. Caith ...more
Matt
Sep 09, 2011 rated it liked it

At first, I didn't think very much of The Country Girls. It's sort of your standard coming of age story, the locus here being female and Irish and from a rural, rather down-at-hell background.

O'Brien, who admittedly wrote under the inspiration of Dubliners, said herself that the novel came almost as if unbidden. She said something to the effect that her hand wrote it, she just guided the pen. Very interesting not only to hear this, which has to indicate something really important and personal an
...more
Kathleen
“There were birds singing in the convent trees as we crossed the tarmac driveway to the chapel. The birds reminded us both of the same thing. Home wasn’t such a bad place, after all.”

This story, set in 1950’s rural Ireland, tells of friendship and family, of Catholic repression and developing sexuality. I liked it so much, and can give three reasons why.

First, the character of Caithleen. She is compelling, initially for her awkwardness, then for the tragedies that befall her, but mostly because
...more
Wanda
I have absolutely no idea how to rate this book. Can I say that I enjoyed it? Yes and no. Can I say that I appreciated it? Yes indeed.

It was an important book for its time—published in 1960 and showing an Ireland that doesn’t exist anymore. One where the Catholic Church and patriarchy reigned supreme and women had extremely limited choices. You could get married or become a nun. That was pretty much it, at least for the country girls. Women weren’t admitted to be sexual beings and weren’t suppo
...more
Chrissie
I like Edna O'Brien's writing, lyrical is the perfect word to describe it. Good dialogs. Her characters become distinct.

The plot left me cold. Totally boring. Not only do you need good writing you need an interesting story for a novel to work. We follow two girls, Caithleen and Baba, 14 years of age when the book opens. Two country girls, as the title so aptly indicates. The setting is western Ireland, outside Limerick, the 1960s. This is a coming of age story, about friendship and blossoming i
...more
Cphe
A taste of Ireland. A coming of age story on the eve of the heady 60's for two friends Cait and Baba. Enjoyed this but what really lingers is the unevenness of the friendship between the girls.

From Boxall 1000 list.
K.D. Absolutely
Dec 21, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2010)
Shelves: series, 1001-core
First published in 1960, this is the first novel of Ireland-born novelist Edna O'Brien (born 1930). This is also Book 1 of her trilogy called the same, The Country Girls Trilogy. The other books are entitled The Lonely Girl (1962) and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964). After the publication of the third book, all of them were banned in the repressive Ireland in the 60's because of the frank portrayal of the sex lives of the characters. Well, there is nothing frank in the first book except that ...more
Vanessa Wu
Aug 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
I have been listening to Edna O'Brien read the unabridged version of this novel. It is quite short. She reads it in a state of holy awe, as if she is filled with wonder at the world. This very much suits the narrative, which tells of the unholy dramas that befall a fourteen-year-old Catholic girl in a little Irish town. It is told in unadorned, elegant English. There is a purity about it, which means you have to quieten your mind and let Edna's voice fill up your senses in order to appreciate it ...more
Elizabeth Quinn
Nov 06, 2009 rated it liked it
For the longest time, I didn't get Edna O'Brien. Her writing was so highly praised, but I couldn't figure out what all the fuss was about. Her characters were all so repressed and their interactions so brittle that I found her stories difficult to get into and generally boring. But as I embarked on my ongoing Irish tear, I was determined to try again. This time I had no trouble becoming interested in Kate and her childhood friend Baba or their lives in rural Ireland, in convent school and in Dub ...more
John Drought
Jun 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
A really great novel showing the progression of two young females through their childhood into adulthood and the development of their friendship. The two female characters are very strong and carry the story. Baba, the protagonist's best friend is a right bitch and such a necessary but toxic influence. We all know somebody like her.
This was originally banned back in the 60s so I was expecting lots of sex but there literally was none (spoiler?). Makes you wonder why Ireland was so proud and aver
...more
Babs
Aug 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I really, really enjoyed reading this book. I think the most delicious aspect of it is that O’Brien marries intimate and personal details of a girl’s early teenhood in the Irish countryside with the horribly dark realities of human existence. Furthermore, O’Brien does this very subtly. She describes the girl, Kaithleen, getting out of bed in the early mornings and seeing frost on the hedgerows outside, and skimming the cream off a bucket of milk to put in a glass bottle to take to a best friend’
...more
Emma Flanagan
The Country Girls follows the story of Cait and Baba, from their childhood in rural County Clare and convent school to Dublin as they struggle to understand live and search for love.

Published in 1960 it was banned upon publication in Ireland for its portrayal of sex. In O’Briens home parish it was publicly burnt. In 1962 it won the Kingsley Amis Award.

The issues they face are as recognisable and relateable today as 50 yrs ago. Young girls today may know more about the biology then Cait and Bab
...more
Hanne
Dec 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
I love O’Brien’s writing. She writes with such vivid imagery, it is impossible not to see Ireland while you are reading it. This story is set in rural western Ireland, county Clare (or Limerick perhaps) going by places mentioned in the book, a place I spent some time in the past. In fact I was one of “these eejits who come over to the Burren to look at flowers.”

And yet, though some of the descriptions make my mind go on holiday and make me long for a walk in the Irish countryside, most of what i
...more
Leonie
Jun 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Friendship, enmity, sexism, complicated relationships and all the other experiences that belong to growing-up – all in one book.

The Country Girls written by Edna O’Brien in the 1960s is probably the most hardcore realism we have ever read. The book is about two girls growing up in the Irish country side which is tainted by religion and sexism. We read this book in school and discussed it and here is our review on the book.
The main characters, Baba and Caithleen, have a hard time deciding if they
...more
Starfish
Jun 29, 2018 rated it liked it
“The Country Girls” is a beautifully written and very descriptive trilogy by Edna O’Brien. It was one of the first books about an independent female character, to be published (1960) in Ireland, criticizing the social issues and vulgar matters.

In the first book the main character, Caithleen Brady, talks about her childhood in retrospect. As she grows up, she has to deal with her alcoholic father, who she fears, and experiences grief, when her mother dies. The Brennan family takes care of her aft
...more
Yassin Häussler
Jul 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
The Country Girls follows Cathleen and Baba, two Irish girls, who have grown up together, however as they leave the comfort of their small village and venture into the dark depths of the big city their friendship starts to crumble. Each chooses their own path in life, with Cate vowing for love, while Baba seeks adventure as a loner.

Just to keep in mind: We are 15-year-olds writing this review as a school project, but we have read the book and analyzed it’s pros and cons in school, with that in m
...more
Saloni
Jun 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Irish girl meets world

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I would recommend this book for children from the age of fourteen to fifteen since it contains certain sexual innuendos and may have some swearing.

Country Girls, written by Edna O’Brien, is a coming of age story, which is a fiction book, full of drama and emotions and reflecting the oppression of women during the World War II in Ireland. It has a first-person narrator which is not necessarily a reliable source of information because the book is writ
...more
Kim
May 16, 2020 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oana Ciurdarean
Sep 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed reading this book. It's an easy read from my point of view, without missing the depth of greatly described feelings and emotions. Cannot wait for the second part.
Trisha
Apr 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
When The Country Girls (1960), The Lonely Girl (1962), and Girls in Their Married Bliss (1964) were published they were promptly condemned by the Catholic Church in Ireland, and banned by the Irish Censorship Board. Most likely because of what this trilogy had to say about the truly dismal lives of girls who grew into womanhood under the shadow of a darkly repressive church and a rural culture filled with narrow-minded ignorance, mistrust and helplessness. Nevertheless, today Edna O’Brien is reg ...more
Irina
This is like vintage chick lit. It's adorable.

I expected something much different - something slow and cautious and maybe a bit boring - but this was surprisingly pleasant, and read surprisingly quickly. With short sentences, a supple storyline and a meagre 250 pages, it draws you in and spits you out in a couple hours.
It is slow, but it's a warm, cosy, sad kind of slowness. It's a story of nostalgia and loneliness and growing up, but it's undramatic and subdued, and even the meanness and carele
...more
Emmet
Dec 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-ve-loved
I heard about this book on the Guardian Books Podcast and knew right away I'd like it. Coming from an Irish author from the 50s, this book challenged society of the day in a way taken for granted today. Yet, O'Brien manages this without being vulgar or explicit at any point.

The book really captures rural Ireland, even an Ireland I can remember and have seen despite being quite so old. The back-biting nature of the small village and those in it was just so accurate as to be scary. From the girls
...more
Rebecca
I don’t have much to say about this other than that it was a bit weird and I feel like it’s one of those books you need to analyse deeply in order to understand the full meaning behind what the author is trying to convey. I’m aware that this is a trilogy though I don’t have much desire to continue with the series. Would recommend if you’re interested in reading books that focus on social issues, specifically social issues related to Ireland.
Lori Sichtermann
Jan 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
I was once an 18-year-old, and this tender story of strained friendship and romantic realization struck a deep chord. As an adult, you want to shake the characters by the shoulders and say life will get better. But, will it? There are two more books in this trilogy... :-)
rosamund
May 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: irish-lit
Moving, beautifully written feminist novel about growing up in the shadow of alcoholism. Caitleen is 14 when her mother dies, leaving her in the care of an alcoholic father, as well as the dubious care of neighbours. She receives a scholarship to a strict convent school, and ends up running away, due to the influence of her friend Baba. This story captures the beauty and misery of an Irish village in the 50s, the stifling power of Catholicism, as well as the sexism and sexual exploitation faced ...more
Trish at Between My Lines
3.5 stars

I read The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien years ago, but remembered nothing of it. And as it’s the book for One City One Book in Dublin this month, I thought it was a good chance to reread it. Even better was that I was able to grab the audiobook in the library, which is read by the author.

7 thoughts on The Country Girls

1. Baba is toxic. And their “friendship” also seems toxic to me. I keep expecting more from her, but she let me (not to mention Cait) down with a bang time after time. Wi
...more
Evelyn
Jul 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The Country Girls captures the Ireland of my father's generation-- an impoverished Ireland that you can still glimpse today in spite of all the social changes and the influx of EU/Celtic tiger money. Impoverished not just in a material sense but also due to the oppression that dominated Ireland for most of its history. On the surface the book may seem realistic and straightforward but given the culture O'Brien was a true radical to make the perspective of a 14 year old girl the center of a novel ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This is one of those literary books that I appreciate, but that never really grabbed my attention. It's so similar to my reaction to Now in November, also a book I was hoping to really like, that comparing the two is the only way I can explain it. Both are short but well-written literary books with a strong sense of place, grounded in the natural world--the Irish setting here is particularly vivid and beautifully described, both visually and culturally, and I enjoyed all the little household det ...more
Cathy
Feb 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who likes a good read
What a sad, gorgeous book this turned out to be. It follows young Caithleen and her best friend/bitterest enemy Baba from their rural adolescence to a convent school, and then on to big, bad Dublin to make their way as young women.

Their small town is portrayed as heartbreakingly beautiful, but the people are ugly -- Caithleen's alcoholic father, the creepy inkeeper and would-be poet who pursues her, and Baba's beautiful addled mother. O'Brien is a powerful descriptor of both the physical world a
...more
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Reading 1001: The Country Girls by Edna O'Brien 4 15 Mar 19, 2020 08:19PM  

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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

Other books in the series

The Country Girls Trilogy (4 books)
  • Girl with Green Eyes (The Country Girls Trilogy, #2)
  • Girls in Their Married Bliss (The Country Girls Trilogy, #3)
  • The Country Girls Trilogy and Epilogue

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