InReview InReview

Support independent journalism

Books & Poetry

Edna O'Brien's The Little Red Chairs

Books & Poetry

Irish author Edna O’Brien’s first novel in a decade, 60 years after her debut, is a chilling reflection on redemption, hope and evil.

Comments Print article

Centred on the theme of genocide, The Little Red Chairs is tied to the siege of Sarajevo. In April 2012, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the start of the attack by Bosnian Serb forces, 11,541 red chairs were placed in Sarajevo’s main street for every Sarajevan killed during the siege; 643 of these were smaller chairs, representing the children killed.

The Little Red Chairs begins when a wanted Balkan war criminal, disguised as a faith healer, settles in a small west-coast Irish village. There are parallels here with the “Butcher of Bosnia”, Radovan Karadžić, but the novel’s strength is not contingent upon them.

With his white hair and beard, white gloves and long black coat, “Doctor Vlad” is an enigma to the locals. However, he soon has many of the village women under his spell. One of them, Fidelma, suffocating in an unhappy, childless marriage, begs him to give her a baby. This fatal attraction and its consequences are the basis of the novel.

The Little Red Chairs is a story that addresses some of the darkest moral issues of our times.

O’Brien’s talent lies in juxtaposing these exquisitely worded atrocities with the humanity that, at times, underlies them. But some of the characters are mundane and superfluous, riding on a narrative and dialogue that occasionally seem unconvincing.

The pace builds through the novel, and the effect in parts one and two is cumulative and powerful. Unfortunately the last section, playing on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, becomes overly constructed, as the plot plods to an unsatisfying halt – one that even the Bard might well have found a trifle too much.

The Little Red Chairs, by Edna O’Brien, published by Allen & Unwin, $29.99.

The Little Red Chairs, by Edna O’Brien, published by Allen & Unwin, $29.99.

Make a comment View comment guidelines

Support local arts journalism

Your support will help us continue the important work of InReview in publishing free professional journalism that celebrates, interrogates and amplifies arts and culture in South Australia.

Donate Here


Show comments Hide comments
Will my comment be published? Read the guidelines.

. You are free to republish the text and graphics contained in this article online and in print, on the condition that you follow our republishing guidelines.

You must attribute the author and note prominently that the article was originally published by InReview.  You must also inlude a link to InReview. Please note that images are not generally included in this creative commons licence as in most cases we are not the copyright owner. However, if the image has an InReview photographer credit or is marked as “supplied”, you are free to republish it with the appropriate credits.

We recommend you set the canonical link of this content to to insure that your SEO is not penalised.

Copied to Clipboard

More Books & Poetry stories

Loading next article