In the Forestby Edna O'Brien Published 22 Apr 2002
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|Publisher||Weidenfeld & Nicolson|
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Based on a horrendous true crime, IN THE FOREST is the story of Mich O'Kane -- 'not all there in the head' it's said -- who shoots three people dead in the woods of Ireland. Edna O'Brien traces the events that lead to such horror. Mich O'Kane hears voices; he cannot stop mourning the death of his mother. Theft and other crimes lead him to a Christian Brothers borstal, then to a British prison. By the time he returns home, he is an institutionalised criminal incapable of telling the truth even to himself. Single mother Eily lives with her young son Maddie in a house Mich camped out in after his mother's death. One night, Mich drags them out of the house and orders Eily to drive to the forest. The third death is that of a priest he entreats to come to the murder site. This tragic and starkly terrible story is told from various points of view, including Eily's, Mich's granny's, and a priest's. But the core of the story is Mich, born to fail. Can there be any hope for him?
"In the Forest" Reviews
My favorite movie of all time is 1978's "Halloween," & this book has all the elements which, to me, seem essential in a modern horror. Rob Zombie tried to justify the killer's motive in the 2007 version of that film, and pretty much messed the story up. Edna O'Brien, on the other hand, an amazing voice very particular about understating things and giving veneer to objects both alive and not, merges motive and magic. (The woods themselves are a character, perhaps the very main one.)
A man goes berserk, killing to satiate the voices in his head, and this account was based on true life. O'Brien, true to the tradition of modern Irish psychopaths (like McCabe's "Butcher Boy") sounds a little like Joyce Carol Oates, a tad like Toni Morrison. Her tale is hair-raising and while the climax occurs halfway through, damn does she know how to keep the reader interested! Her woods are phantasmagorical, the fairy tale constructed here is a tragedy. I really must read her other books... & so should you.
Set in western Ireland, this novel is based a story of terror that took place in Ireland in 1994. It is a disturbing and devastating story of a mass murderer- from his tragic childhood to the height of his murder spree- and the community that seems helpless to stop him, or worse- that unwittingly aids him in his crime spree. It shows a society in denial of the abuse of children in detention and in school, easily abandoning its own, and unwilling to believe that they have unleashed a monster.
Paradoxically, O'Brien's writing is so lovely, so gentle and intimate- as much as you want to turn away from the horrific acts of violence, you are cradled in the beauty of her prose.
Based very loosely on a true story, this follows paranoid schizophrenic Michen O'Kane as he murders a mother and child, then the priest that he summoned to give them the last rites, before finally the guarda (cops) close in. The book falls into three very (very) roughly equal parts: (1) the back stories of both Michen and his first two victims, Eily and her toddler son Maddie; (2) the crimes and the manhunt; (3) the aftermath, as Michen goes on trial and descends ever deeper into his alienation and madness.
This is, I think, the first of O'Brien's novels that I've read, and for the most part I was very impressed. Her use of language can be, at its best, quite astounding, full of wonderful lyrical flourishes and brightly realized images. On the other hand, there's only a thin line between gloriously idiosyncratic prose and Pseuds' Corner, and every now and then -- not so very often but nonetheless too often -- O'Brien stumbles over this boundary: "He is crying then, his teeth eating his tears" (p248), for example.
Sometimes, too, the text lapses into incoherence, and there are some idiotic continuity errors -- idiotic in that there's no aesthetic reason for them, just sloppiness. On pp139-40, for example, we're told that "It was the first sound of [Fiona's] voice since he had come in," and yet, oops, at the top of page 139 Fiona has shouted to him, as he entered the shop, "We're not open, we're not open!"
Allied to this are willful changes of tense from present to past or vice versa mid-paragraph, and sometimes (if memory serves) even mid-sentence. O'Brien doesn't seem to be using this tense-related chaos for any particular narrative purpose, just, I think, in an effort to look artsy.
Much of the narrative is done from inside Michen's head, in what I assume is an attempt to depict paranoid schizophrenia, and I had problems with this aspect too. Like most of us, I haven't known too many paranoid schizophrenics, but I've known quite well a couple of friends who've suffered, at the very least, related diseases. O'Brien gets some parts of her portrayal of Michen's mindset right; it may be that she has the whole of it right, but often and again I was looking askance at the page at something that didn't seem to ring true. Michen's view of the world, in other words, seemed less like a paranoid schizophrenic's, more like an author's idea of what a paranoid schizophrenic's mind should be like.
So much for my reasons for unease with the test. What about the good things?
Well, as implied above, when O'Brien is getting her prose right, which is by far the most of the time, it's enough to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. This she manages while making her text quite infernally readable. If some of her characters are straight out of Central Casting, enough of the main ones are so excellently drawn that it's hard to believe they're not real: Eily, Kitty (the girl whom Michen abducts as a sort of replacement Eily), O'Mara (the retired cop brought in to help in the interrogation of Michen), and others; and it's superb that O'Brien chose to dodge the cheap trick of painting the toddler Maddie as a cute, angelic little sweetie-pops and instead made him a bit of a self-centered brat -- a real child, in other words. Overall, the book has the pace of a thriller even if, at the end, there's no satisfying conclusion, no closure, of the kind a thriller might have.
In short, a book that's very well worth reading even if you might find you come away from it with reservations.
As an aside, Goodreads (unless it's just moi) seems to have done away with the Preview function. Elderly geezers like me rely on the Preview function to help them get at least most of the typos and idiocies out of their texts. Let's hope the function is returned Real Soon Now.
This story really happened. Maybe not quite the way O'Brien relays it, but it's true. A woman and her child were abducted and murdered, and then a priest was taken and killed soon after, all by a young man who heard voices and exhibited lots of signs of mental illness. He had been placed in institutions early in his life and suffered horrific abuse at the hands of authorities. Does this make him less responsible for his crimes? Is he a victim as well?
I found this book compelling. I'm a mental health professional and perhaps that's one of the reasons why, but I ended the book feeling so sad for all involved. The murderer, the victims, the psychiatrist who tried to treat him, the towns that were terrorized... what devastation. O'Brien's novelization is so well written. This is my first book of hers and I look forward to reading more. I understand why she was so controversial in Ireland- she writes about what no one wants to admit.
Food: unevenly cooked steak. Chewy in some parts, too bloody in others, but not a piece of meat you regret eating.
Although Edna O'Brien got a lot of negative feedback in regard to this novel from the loved ones of the murder victims, (who the story is based around) as well as from the public, something about this book is always going to stay with me. O'Brien manages to hold the reader's attention effortlessly with the way she tackled the many different perspectives of those portrayed in this work. This is the first time I have read a book that alternates between the mindsets of each personality so candidly and with such conviction. While reading this, you never know what new character you will meet, or what part of the grisly story they have to tell; the details conveyed from each person being integral.
Her narrative spins its web in a way that does not touch or reveal the emotions of the author; rather it is a story that serves its purpose and feeds the curiosity of the reader in all ways. I give this book an extremely high rating, because I know without a doubt that I will always remember it.
Moody, even "Gothic" (as at least one reviewer suggested), this novel tells the story of three horrific murders in West Ireland countryside. Based on a true story, it recounts the story of a young man who was locked away in a juvenile facility, subject to horrific abuse both sexual and otherwise, who now returns to his home town to wreak revenge. He is obviously mentally ill. There is no sympathy for him and a lot of fear. The local constabulary is afraid of him. Soon he sets his sights on a young mother and her child....This is literary fiction at its best. It's not a fast read. I had to go back a few times to check things that I had read. O'Brien is an amazing writer. She lives in London. One article I read said that she is not welcome in Ireland. I can see why. She as no patience for the Irish adherence to Roman Catholicism. The abuse that children have suffered there at the hands of the clergy is well known. I loved this book. It challenged me. I enjoy the challenge of a literary writer such as O'Brien and plan to read more. I read a lot of crime fiction. This is crime fiction with a literary twist. No sex, no violence but dark, dark, dark....