One night, in the dead of winter, a mysterious stranger arrives in the small Irish town of Cloonoila. Read more...
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One night, in the dead of winter, a mysterious stranger arrives in the small Irish town of Cloonoila. Broodingly handsome, worldly, and charismatic, Dr. Vladimir Dragan is a poet, a self-proclaimed holistic healer, and a welcome disruption to the monotony of village life. Before long, the beautiful black-haired Fidelma McBride falls under his spell and, defying the shackles of wedlock and convention, turns to him to cure her of her deepest pains.
Then, one morning, the illusion is abruptly shattered. While en route to pay tribute at Yeats's grave, Dr. Vlad is arrested and revealed to be a notorious war criminal and mass murderer. The Cloonoila community is devastated by this revelation, and no one more than Fidelma, who is made to pay for her deviance and desire. In disgrace and utterly alone, she embarks on a journey that will bring both profound hardship and, ultimately, the prospect of redemption.
Moving from Ireland to London and then to The Hague, THE LITTLE RED CHAIRS is Edna O'Brien's first novel in ten years -- a vivid and unflinching exploration of humanity's capacity for evil and artifice as well as the bravest kind of love.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-11-09
- Reviewer: Staff
In a melodramatic (and appropriate) opening, it is a dark and stormy night when stranger Vladimir Dragan arrives in Cloonoila, a small village in rural Ireland. Handsome, white-bearded Vlad calls himself a poet and healer. He ingratiates himself into the community, offering rejuvenating massages. An Irish village is, of course, OBriens (The Love Object) traditional domain, and as usual she conveys the close, warm, slightly claustrophobic web of small-town relationships. Vlad is eventually revealed as the Beast of Bosnia, a ruthless military leader responsible for thousands of deaths in the recent genocide. But meanwhile, Fidelma McBride, a beautiful, sexually starved young woman married to an older man, is transfixed by Vlads charismatic personality. She abandons discretion and arranges trysts so that Vlad can fulfill her yearning to have a child. Tragedy ensues: Fidelma loses her marriage, her self-respect, and is forced to leave Cloonoila. The scene shifts to a vibrantly intense London, where a penniless Fidelma must take menial jobs. Vlads trial for war crimes in The Hague is another jarringly effective shift of scene; it serves as the culmination of his victims harrowing memories, which are scattered throughout the narrative. (The title refers to the 11,541 empty chairs set out in Sarajevo in 2012 as a national monument to represent people killed during the siege by Bosnian Serb forces.) Against this dark subterranean thread OBrien interjects lines from classic poetsVirgil, Yeats, Byron, Dickinsonwho attest to the enduring power of love. Fidelmas eventual redemption seems forced, but OBriens eerily potent gaze into the nature of evil is haunting. Agent: Ed Victor, Ed Victor Ltd. (Mar.)
A lover's buried secrets exposed
Edna O’Brien, one of the jewels in the crown of Irish literature, has long given voice to her homeland’s tragic lyricism. At 85, O’Brien has lost none of her talent or fire. Indeed, her new novel, The Little Red Chairs—her first in a decade—may be the fiercest work of her estimable career.
Arriving in a small, off-the-beaten-track village in the west of Ireland, Vladimir Dragan sets up shop as a holistic healer. Handsome and darkly charismatic, the aging man charms the women of the community, particularly Fidelma, once the town beauty and now the 40-ish wife of an older man. Fidelma’s great sadness is never having had a child, and Vlad comes to represent her last chance to fulfill that dream. Soon pregnant, Fidelma has her happiness shattered when the past catches up with her mysterious lover. Vlad is arrested as a war criminal—a savage master of evil responsible for thousands of violent deaths during the Bosnian war. His exposure and extradition shocks the villagers, but Fidelma’s devastation goes beyond emotional despair as she endures an unthinkable act of retribution.
The Little Red Chairs takes its title from a 2012 memorial installation in Sarajevo where 11,541 red chairs represented every Sarajevan killed during the 1,425-day siege. O’Brien comes at the story from many points of view—not only Fidelma and Vlad’s, but also those of others in the town, including an immigrant kitchen worker who is the first to recognize the war criminal—masterfully imbuing the novel with texture that complements the complexity of its collision of history and culture.