The Little Red Chairs
Back Bay Books/ Little Brown and Company
Ms. Hen came to read this book because she had read another book by Edna O’Brien, and she looked at her pile of to-read books, and she discovered that they were all by men. She went on a book-buying spree of women authors and happened to come upon this novel. She was intrigued by the story about a woman who falls for a perpetrator of genocide.
This is a novel about a small village in Ireland where a stranger comes to town. It has been said there are only two plots: a stranger comes to town, and someone goes on a journey. This novel consists of both those plots. Vlad arrives in Cloonoila, and announces that he is a sex therapist and a healer. The people are intrigued, especially Fidelma, who is married and childless, and wants a baby desperately.
Fidelma and Vlad come together and he helps her. But he is not who he claims to be. He is a war criminal from Bosnia in charge of murdering thousands of innocent people. Ms. Hen knew this when she was reading the book that the man was vicious, but she did not believe it, because he appears so kind in the beginning, since it seems as if he wants to help Fidelma.
Edna O’Brien does not hold back on the barbarity in this novel. Ms. Hen was shocked by the gruesomeness of it, which reminded her of the gritty brutality of Toni Morrison’s work. Vlad is a brute, and those people have enemies. What those enemies did to Fidelma will burn in Ms. Hen’s mind for a long time.
After that, Fidelma went on a journey, thus the other plot. She travels to London and leaves her husband and the village behind. She tries to get work in a boutique, but she does not succeed. She arrives at a shelter, and makes new friends. She does not tell anyone what happened to her. She is ashamed of her love affair with Vlad, because he was arrested and is going to be on trial.
Ms. Hen loved this novel because it was not what she expected it to be. The village is a peaceful place, and the people live their own lives, and get by, but their lives are shattered, and the story turns in ways that Ms. Hen did not expect. Fidelma meets many characters along her journey, and survives. She is strong the way a woman who has had to put up with hell can be.
There are a handful of hens in this novel, as there are in many novels that take place in rural areas. Vlad rents a room from a woman named Fifi, “They settled on a price of one hundred Euros per week, and as fortune had it, he could now look after Bibi and her six hens while she kept her promise to go over to Mickey in Leenane.” Ms. Hen is unsettled by a murderer watching hens, but she knows he has done worse things than hurt animals.
There’s something about this novel that draws Ms. Hen in and keeps her wondering what will happen. Ms. Hen loved living in this world, though the characters suffered. She realized that getting through and surviving is what makes life beautiful and worthwhile, for decent people to live and to learn not to look back and stew too much in what came before.