The life of a woman who had the gall to enjoy sex

16 October 2012 - 02:15
By Andrew Donaldson

Short, sharp guidance and observations from a journalist with attitude. All books available from Exclusives


'Country Girl: A Memoir', by Edna O'Brien (Faber & Faber) R260

PHILIP Roth once said of O'Brien that only Colette was her equal "as a student of the ardours of an independent woman who is also on her own as a writer". As a prose stylist, though, O'Brien is peerless. One of the 20th century's major voices, she was driven from her native Ireland, where her early-1960s, taboo-breaking books were banned and burned, derided by men with half her talent, and attacked by feminists for her "supine, woebegone inclinations" - her problem, she maintained, was not that she was a woman, but that she thought of herself as glamorous and, unfortunately, she enjoyed sex. This is astonishing writing - vibrant, compelling, brutally honest and without a trace of bitterness. It's the literary memoir of the year.


WRITERS write. And rewrite and rewrite. A lot. There's a new edition of Ernest Hemingway's first bestseller, A Farewell to Arms (William Heinemann, subtitled The Special Edition), which illustrates the point. Published in 1929, the bleak, cynical anti-war novel made Hemingway's reputation, and its final scene - spoiler alert - in which the narrator watches his true love dying in childbirth, delivering a stillborn son, remains as harrowing as ever.

The new edition is something like a CD reissue or a director's cut DVD, bumped up with "out-take" and "alternate version" extras; in this case, the 47 different endings Hemingway hammered out. Here is one: "There is nothing you can do about it. It is all right if you believe in God and love God." And another: "That is all there is to the story. Catherine died and you will die and I will die and that is all I can promise you."

And, of course, the one that worked: "After I had got them out and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn't any good. It was like saying goodbye to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain."


THE book every hipster should read - Jack Kerouac's On The Road - is out as a film. It's directed by Walter Salles, who made that other road movie, Motorcycle Diaries, based on Che Guevara's writings. Early reviews say it is okay-ish; not great, but worthwhile. Time then to try the Kerouac once more. (Truman Capote did say it was typing - not writing.)


"BUT Lisa Gherardini has been in the grave for almost five centuries. There is no way she can be shot dead. The same cannot be said of the president. That is why the Secret Service never lets down its guard. Not yet, at least." - Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot, by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard (Henry Holt & Co).