When The Country Girls, Edna O’Brien’s first novel, appeared in 1960, it predated and anticipated the feminist revolution. It stood out and stood alone, upturning every category. There was little to compare with it.
The Country Girls grew over time to what we now know as The Country Girls Trilogy, encompassing the title volume, a second novel Girl with Green Eyes, published in 1962, and Girls in Their Married Bliss, published in 1964. It is given to few to write their most important works early on. Quite simply, The Country Girls is a twentieth-century literary masterpiece which anticipates and puts into effect a feminist revolution all of its own.
It tells the story of two young girls from Country Clare, Cait Brady and Baba Brennan, and tracks them from childhood through the vicissitudes of adolescence, marriage, emigration to Dublin and then to London and the terrible reckonings of adult life. Cait, the timid romanticist, who unfailingly falls for the wrong kind of man and suffers accordingly, is contrasted with Baba who is more hard-nosed, cynical, and pragmatic.
The Country Girls Trilogy is outstanding because of its stylistic variation and the uncanny accuracy of its vision: each of the novels is tonally quite different but each achieves the same level of precision and insight into the social and emotional conditions of lives in 1950s rural Ireland and in London in the 1960s.