In the Forest by Edna O’Brien


Michael O’Kane is one of those troubled kids who slips through the cracks. After the death of his beloved mother, he gets into one increasingly more serious scrape after another until he is finally sent away. His stint in reform school is brutal and not even the priests offer solace.

O’Kane is the central character of Edna O’Brien’s riveting (and difficult) novel In the Forest. Reading this book reminded me a little bit of reading Joyce Carol Oates. I want to like Oates but I find her difficult to read. Still,  I know that if I stick to it I’ll often feel rewarded in the end. O’Brien is an Irish writer and I was happier when I was able to read this book for longer stretches of time. After a half an hour or so I got used to the rhythm of the language and it became as musical as the Irish lilt is to the ear.

Ultimately though In the Forest is a brutal story. O’Kane returns home after his latest stint behind bars and wreaks havoc. Everyone in the village is afraid of him; he’s clearly dangerous and crazy. O’Brien’s book is based on true events, but I won’t tell you more than that. I will tell you that there is a moment at the end of the book that is deeply touching and unexpected. Trust me, coming after all the violence it will be impossible to miss.

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