Summary and book reviews of Wild Decembers by Edna O'Brien

Wild Decembers

By Edna O'Brien

Wild Decembers
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2000,
    257 pages.
    Paperback: May 2001,
    257 pages.

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Book Summary

"It was the first tractor on the mountain and its arrival would be remembered and relayed; the day, the hour of evening, and the way crows circled above it, blackening the sky, fringed, soundless, auguring."

Edna O’Brien’s masterly new novel, Wild Decembers, charts the quick and critical demise of relations betweenJoseph Brennan and Mick Bugler – "the warring sons of warring sons" – in the countryside of western Ireland. With her inimitable gift for describing the occasions of heartbreak, O’Brien brings Joseph’s love for his land to the level of his sister Breege’s love for both him and his rival, Bugler. Breege sees "the wrong of years and the recent wrongs" fuel each other as Bugler comes to claim recently inherited acreage on what her brother calls "my mountain." A classic drama ensues, involving the full range of human bonds and betrayals and leavened by the human comedy of which Edna O’Brien rarely loses sight. A dinner dance in the local village and the seduction of Mick Bugler by an eager pair of uninhibited sisters rival Joyce in their hectic exuberance. But as the narrative unfolds, the reader is drawn into the sense of foreboding in a place where "fields mean more than fields, more than life and more than death too."

Prologue

Cloontha it is called - a locality within the bending of an arm. A few scattered houses, the old fort, lime-dank and jabbery and from the great whooshing belly of the lake between grassland and callow land a road, sluicing the little fortresses of ash and elder, a crooked road to the mouth of the mountain. Fields that mean more than fields, more than life and more than death too. In the summer months calves going suck suck suck, blue dribble threading from their black lips, their white faces stark as clowns. Hawthorn and whitethorn, boundaries of dreaming pink. Byroad and bog road. The bronze gold grasses in a tacit but unremitting sway. Listen. Shiver of wild grass and cluck of wild fowl. Quickening.

Fathoms deep the frail and rusted shards, the relics of battles of the long ago, and in the basins of limestone, quiet in death, the bone babes and the bone mothers, the fathers too. The sires. The buttee men and the long-legged men who hacked and hacked and into the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What is the significance of the novel's title, in itself and in association with the Emily Brontë quotation used as an epigraph? Why is the title in the plural?

  2. What "frail and rusted shards" and relics of "the long ago" — actual and metaphoric — are still present in, or emerge from, the town, fields, bogs, and woods of Cloontha and Slieve Clochan and affect the people of today? In what respect might individual characters themselves be regarded as relics of "the long ago"?

  3. In the preface, O'Brien writes: "They say the enemy came in the night, but the enemy can come at any hour, be it dawn or twilight, because the enemy is always there and these people know it, ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Irish Times

A mood akin to that of Wuthering Heights - and indeed the spirit of Emily Brontë seems to hover over this novel...The acts of the main protagonists are unapologetically grand and elemental. Edna O'Brien is one of our bravest and best novelists.

Kirkus Reviews

The supporting cast, which could have easily seemed two-dimensional (wily old solicitor, gossiping hairdresser, dumbfounded local cops) transcends stereotype in OBriens memorably drawn portraiture. Her mastery of tone and register keeps Wild Decembers churning even when its a foregone conclusion where all that anger will lead. Proof again that in the hands of an artist, no plot is hackneyed, no emotion too obvious.

San Francisco Chronicle

As a lyrical stylist O'Brien is a match for anyone living, and a worthy heir to her great forebears in Irish literature.

Reader Reviews
jen

Wild Decembers was at elast an interesting book. Sometimes the storline was alittle hard to follow because of the narration technique used, but that's also what brings the book to life. Her writing style is very lyrical, and I enjooyed the fact that ...   Read More

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