The Little Red Chairs
Edna O'Brien
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Buy *The Little Red Chairs* by Edna O'Brienonline

The Little Red Chairs
Edna O'Brien
Little, Brown
320 pages
March 2016
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on The Little Red Chairs.

A stranger arrives in a remote Irish town, handsome, educated, a poet and healer drawing parallels between his home country and Coonoila. Whetting curiosity with his intention to settle there as a holistic practitioner, this sophisticated, gregarious newcomer seduces the unwary villagers. A bearded pied piper, he takes them on nature walks, reads poetry aloud. The town falls in love with Dr. Vladimir Dragan.

Even Sister Bonaventure, a Catholic nun, is a fan, unexpectedly rejuvenated by one of his treatments. His office uses the space of a boutique owned by Jack and Fidelma O’Brien, the vanity project of an older husband for his beautiful and spirited young wife. The failure of the boutique, Fidelma’s pride and joy, mirrors the gradual disharmony that has crept into the marriage. The years between husband and wife have become a chasm of unspoken disappointment, he soured by an aging body, she despairing of ever having a child. It is no surprise, then, that Fidelma falls under the stranger’s spell and seeks opportunities to speak of poetry and nature, romantic fancies rendered foolish by time. Dragan is the catnip to the black-haired Mrs. McBride, a ray of sunshine in a dreary existence--“her soul intoxicated as she was carried aloft to her unbidden destiny”. Attuned to the beauty of nature’s vast landscape and a lover of words, Fidelma is hungry for more than her meager portion of life with Jack.

The illusion is abruptly shattered on the day of an outing. A bus filled with enthusiastic townspeople is stopped by police, and the officers announce that Dr. Vlad is under arrest as a war criminal. The idyllic village sojourn has been a farce, the newcomer a wolf hiding among the oblivious sheep, and the “Beast of Bosnia” is swept away for trial to the Hague. Fidelma is left to face the consequences of her flirtation alone, her dream of capturing a bit of happiness to sustain her in a bleak future with a dour, unhappy husband in ashes. The villagers are devastated, outraged, Fidelma’s secrets known to all, her disgrace a burden made indelible by unexpected brutality.

The beauty of the Irish countryside, the lyrical rhythm of spoken poetry, the laughter of friends sharing a pint: all is covered with a haze of deceit, a broken woman fleeing husband and home to seek solace in anonymity in London, a vast melting pot where immigrants struggle. Fidelma is only one among many, grateful for employment and a roof over her head. She bears her burden in silence, pushing the bittersweet moments with a lover-cum-monster below the surface, where it cannot be seen: “I am not moved enough to stamp out the hate that is strangling me.” Slowly, she makes her way, conscious of the kindnesses of those who share what little they have: “We are mice in the jaws of cats at play.” Immersed in a dark tide of shame and rage, Fidelma seeks closure, traveling finally to the Hague. There Vlad stands judged by the world, cloaked now in the arrogance he so judiciously hid in Coonoila, scornful of the court, denying culpability. The end to this nightmare is elusive, a jarring betrayal leaving scars that resist healing, life’s brutality writ deep.

This is a haunting book of hope and despair, hubris and homelessness, the lost scattered to a distant shore, absorbed in the cacophony of the disenfranchised. Beauty and evil coexist in a world made small by greed and war, goodness quaking before the thunderous machinery of death. Homelands annihilated, the dispossessed scratch shallow roots in barren soil, seeking comfort in community, reconfiguration threaded through past and present, another way of being: “You would not believe how many words there are for home and what savage music there can be rung of it.” A man strolls through a small Irish town. Expediency silencing the seething wrath of his diseased heart, he casts a spell on a beautiful woman, her head in the clouds. She takes a bite of that apple, innocence forfeit to the wails of a wounded world: “The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood”.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2016
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