Edna O’Brien: She didn’t just break the mould, she made it
Writer smashed through social and sexual barriers for women in Ireland and beyond, to be sure, to be sure
In John Boyne’s recent novel The Heart’s Invisible Furies, a character says teasingly to a female writer: “You’ll be on the tea towel one of these days.” “That will never happen,” she replies. “They don’t put women on that. Only men. Although they do let us use it to dry the dishes.”
Boyne was slyly commenting on the tea towel (and T-shirt, and coaster) found in every souvenir shop in Ireland featuring “Twelve Great Irish Authors” – all of them men. Granted, there are four Nobel laureates among them, but the absence of women writers is ludicrous.
I thought of Boyne when I visited Dublin last month. He has written, often and eloquently, about the oppression of the Catholic church – in particular its merciless attitude to homosexuality. When he was in SA in 2015, Ireland was holding a referendum on the question of gay marriage. The popular writer, a gay activist, spoke about it at the Franschhoek Literary Festival and could be heard in the green room on calls home asking for updates. A week later he was at the Kingsmead Book Fair and his country had just voted in favour of an amendment to the constitution, “to permit marriage to be contracted by two persons without distinction as to their sex”. Boyne was absolutely jubilant...