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Excerpt from The Love Object by Edna O'Brien, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Love Object

Selected Stories

by Edna O'Brien

The Love Object by Edna O'Brien X
The Love Object by Edna O'Brien
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  • First Published:
    May 2015, 544 pages
    Feb 2017, 544 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer G Wilder
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About this Book

Print Excerpt


The sun gave to the bare fields the luster of ripened hay. That is why people go, for the sun and the scenery— ranges of mountains, their peaks sparkling, an almost cloudless sky, the sea a variety of shades of blue, ceaselessly flickering like a tray of jewels. Yet Eileen wants to go home; to be more precise, she wishes that she had never come. Her son Mark, and his girlfriend, Penny, have become strangers to her and, though they talk and go to the beach and go to dinner, there is between them a tautness. She sees her age and her separateness much more painfully here than when at home, and she is lost without the props of work and friends. She sees faults in Penny that she had not noticed before. She is irked that a girl of twenty can be so self- assured, irked at the languid painstaking way that Penny applies her suntan oil, making sure that it covers each inch of her body, then rolling onto her stomach imploring Mark to cover her back completely. At other times Penny is moody, her face buried in a large paperback book with a picture of a girl in a gauze bonnet on the cover. There are other things, too: when they go out to dinner Penny fiddles with the cutlery or the salt and pepper shakers, she is ridiculously squeamish about the food, and offers Mark tastes of things as if he were still a baby.

On the third night, Eileen cannot sleep. On impulse she gets out of bed, dons a cardigan, and goes out on the terrace to plan a strategy. A mist has descended, a mist so thick and so opaque that she cannot see the pillars and has to move like a sleepwalker to make her way to the balustrade. Somewhere in this sphere of milky white the gulls are screaming, and their screams have a whiff of the supernatural because of her not being able to see their shapes. A few hours earlier, the heavens were a deep, a hushed blue, studded with stars; the place was enchanting, the night balmy and soft. In fact, Penny and Mark sat on the canvas chairs looking at the constellations while waiting and hoping for a falling star so that they could make a wish together. Eileen had sat a little apart from them, lamenting that she had never been that young or that carefree. Now, out on the terrace again, staring into the thicket of mist and unnerved by the screaming gulls, she makes herself a firm promise to go home. She invents a reason, that she has to do jury duty; then, like a sleepwalker, she gropes her way back to bed.

But next day she finds herself lying on the beach near them, smarting beneath a merciless sun. There is a little drama. Penny has lost a ring and Mark is digging for it in the sand. He scrapes and scrapes, as a child might, and then he gets a child's shovel which has been left behind and digs deep, deeper than is necessary. He retraces where he has already scraped. Penny is crying. It was a ring Mark gave her, an amethyst. Eileen would like to help, but he says he knows where he has already searched and it is best to leave it to him. Penny dangles her long, elegant fingers and recalls how the ring slipped off. He jokes a little and says what a pity that she hadn't called out at the very moment, because then they could trace it. Others watch, some supposing that it is money that is lost. Penny begs him to give up, saying that obviously it was meant and alluding to possible bad luck. He goes to a different spot.

"It can't be there," Penny says, almost crisp. Eileen sees that he is smiling. She does not see him pick anything up, but soon after he stands over Penny, bends down, and reenacts the ritual of putting on an engagement ring. Penny cries out with joy and disbelief, says she can't believe it, and a great ripple of warmth and giddiness overtakes them. Mark is fluent now with stories of life at university, fights he got into, scrapes he got into, being stopped by the police on his motorcycle and so on, as if the relief of finding the ring has put to rest any unspoken difference between them.

Excerpted from The Love Object by Edna O'Brien. Copyright © 2015 by Edna O'Brien. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company.

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