A fiercely beautiful novel about one woman's struggle to reclaim a life shattered by betrayal from the 2018 winner of the PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature.
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.
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, O'Brien's (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 Vlad's 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. Vlad's 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 O'Brien interjects lines from classic poets Virgil, Yeats, Byron, Dickinson who attest to the enduring power of love. Fidelma's eventual redemption seems forced, but O'Brien's eerily potent gaze into the nature of evil is haunting.
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This was the pick for this month's book club or I guarantee I would not have bothered to finish this book. If you are a happy, content person this book will make you depressed. I enjoy a good tear jerker - this is just an imitation of good literature without the prose or character development. There is no redeeming feature of this book other than being relatively short.