The Little Red Chairs
I read this for my book group’s meeting last Monday. The discussion was fascinating, more so than many we’ve had – which was interesting, since few of us liked the book.
The Little Red Chairs is about many things – the parochialism of small Irish towns, the plight of immigrants in today’s world, the yearnings of women. More, though we felt it was about good vs. evil, as in, the seductiveness of the psychopath. In that our discussion took place right after Election 2016, the discussion was particularly relevant.
The author is renowned for literary work focused on her home country of Ireland. We couldn’t fault her for her prose, which was beautiful, or her settings, which were skillfully painted, or her characters, which were well-drawn. Our major problem with The Little Red Chairs was too much of it all. Part rural Ireland, part immigrant London, part trial of a war criminal at The Hague, it went in too many directions for us. We loved, for instance, the introduction of a young waiter at an eatery who recognized the villain, refused to serve him, and was actually made to apologize to save his job. It was a walk-on part for the waiter; the story never visited him again. This was true of rich characters in this book.
The author definitely had a political agenda, and while we agreed with the cause, we felt that the forum was wrong. More than one of us (and I’m the only writer in my group) felt that this book needed editing. With an author as fabled as Edna O’Brien, though, did any editor dare?
This isn’t the first time that a book we didn’t like sparked the best discussion. We had the same experience years ago with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. Then, as now with The Little Red Chairs, a book we disliked was adored by critics. Gilbert’s book was a huge success. It’ll be interesting to see if this one is, too.