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Authors: Edna O'Brien

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In the Forest

BOOK: In the Forest
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Set in the countryside of western Ireland,

the Forest
centres on unwitting victims for sacrifice: a radiant young woman, her young son and a trusting priest, all despatched to the wilderness of a young man’s unbridled, deranged fantasies.

Edna O’Brien’s riveting, frightening and brilliantly told new novel reminds us that anything can happen when protection isn't afforded to either perpetrator or victim ...

A modern masterpiece’

Sunday Independent

‘A magnificent book, haunting, instinctive and shocking . . . When art is this good, it cannot be afraid to speak out’

Scotland on Sunday

‘O’Brien is a superb storyteller .,. breathtakingly told in O'Brien’s typically graceful, emotionally gripping style’

Los Angeles Times

‘Her best book, and a modern masterpiece . . .
In the Forest
redeems and restores the memory of those who died in Cregg Wood and, apart from its art, is a fitting memorial to Imelda Riney whose story inspired the loving portrait of the book’s principal character, Eily Ryan’ Eoghan Harris,
Independent on Sunday

‘In the Forest
is a sort of fictionalised inner exploration of an outer horror, beautifully written but, yes, dark’ Mary Kenny,

‘This novel, splintered in its form but coherent in its potency, is a persuasive representation of a desperado, of one who has despaired’

Lucy Hughes-Hallett,
Sunday Times

‘In the Forest
is one of [O’Brien’s] most powerful and effective novels, a model of its kind . . . The skill with which O'Brien recreates Eily’s world, in a few deft strokes, is one of the best things in the book . . .In retelling a sensational story, O’Brien has avoided sensationalism, preferring to present the quieter drama of a community of law-abiding citizens terrorised by violence but strong enough, ultimately, to defeat it’

David Robson,
Sunday Telegraph

‘This is an ambitious, important book, dealing with difficult subjects directly and courageously’

Jonathan Heawood,

‘Where O’Brien’s novel shows its intelligence is in its objective quality and avoidance of sensationalism or glib judgements’ Sharon Barnes,
Irish Tatler
‘A spare, compelling and compassionate novel . . . the writing of
In the Forest
was not just a worthwhile enterprise, but a necessary and successful one’

Ronan Bennett,

‘There is something compulsive about In the
. . . All characters are drawn compassionately, and the descriptions of the author’s beloved Ireland are picturesque and melodic. For O’Brien this is a Greek tragedy that “needed to be written” . . . her writing is poetic enough for you to feel that, yes, however painful, it also needs to be read’ Viv Groksop,
Daily Express

‘Masterly, intuitive, poetic’
Atlantic Monthly

‘In the Forest
is a rather extraordinary transformation of cold fact into lyrical fiction’ Melanie Rehak,

‘This literary thriller reads like a dark enchantment, an unholy myth, a terrifyingly true fairy tale’

Lisa Shea,

Edna O’Brien’s most recent fiction,
Wild Decembers,
House of Splendid Isolation
Down by the River,
as a novel of modern Ireland. Her life of James Joyce was published in 1999. She grew up in Ireland and now lives in London.

By Edna O’Brien

The Country Girls The Lonely Girl Girls in their Married Bliss August is a Wicked Month Casualties of Peace The Love Object and other stories A Pagan Place Zee & Co Night

A Scandalous Woman and other stories Mother Ireland Johnny I Hardly Knew You Mrs Reinhardt and other stories Some Irish Loving - An Anthology Returning: a collection of tales A Fanatic Heart The High Road Lantern Slides: short stories Time and Tide House of Splendid Isolation Down by the River Wild Decembers In the Forest

In the Forest



First published in Great Britain in
by Weidenfeld
Nicolson This paperback edition published in
by Phoenix,

an imprint of Orion Books Ltd,

Orion House,
Upper St Martin’s Lane,


© 2002
Edna O’Brien

The right of Edna O’Brien to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

0 75284 892 5

Typeset by Deltatype Ltd, Birkenhead, Merseyside Printed and bound in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives pic

For Imelda Riney,

Liam Riney,

Father Joe Walshe In memoriam

Turn back, turn back, thou Bonnie Bride,

Nor in this house of death abide

(Folk Song)

Table of Contents
Cloosh Wood

Woodland straddling two counties and several town-lands, a drowsy corpus of green, broken only where the odd pine has struck up on its own, spindly, freakish, the stray twigs on either side branched, cruciform wise. In the interior the trapped wind gives off the rustle of a distant sea and the tall slender trunks of the spruces are so close together that the barks are a sable-brown, the light becoming darker and darker into the chamber of non-light. At the farthest entrance under the sweep of a brooding mountain there is a wooden hut choked with briars and brambles where a dead goat decomposed and stank during those frantic, suspended and sorrowing days. It was then the wood lost its old name and its old innocence in the hearts of the people.

Ellen, the widow woman, did not join in the search when the men and women set out with their dogs and their sticks, clinging to the last vestiges of hope. Yet she dreams of it, dreams she is in Cloosh Wood, running back and forth, calling, calling to those search parties whom she cannot reach, the tall trees no longer static but moving like giants, giants on their grotesque and shaggy roots, their green needly paws reaching out to scratch her, and she wakens in a sweat, unable to scream the scream that has been growing in her. Then she gets up and goes into her kitchen to boil milk. She looks at the sheen of dark beyond her picture window, the plants, geraniums and cacti limp in their sleepiness, looks at her big new brass lock, bright as a casket, and then she comes fully awake, and as she tells it again and again, Eily, the dead woman with her long hair walks towards her and says, ‘Why, why didn’t you help me?’ ‘The Kinderschreck,’ she answers back. ‘The Kinder-schreck,’ and with her raised arm tries to blot out the woman’s gaze, the light of the eyes a broken gold, like candles puttering out.


The Kinderschreck. That’s what the German man called him when he stole the gun. Before that he was Michen, after a saint, and then Mich, his mother’s pet, and then Boy, when he went to the place, and then Child, when Father Damien had him helping with the flowers and the cruets in the sacristy, and then K, short for O’Kane, when his hoodlum times began.

He had been a child of ten and eleven and twelve years, and then he was not a child because he had learnt the cruel things that they taught him in the places named after the saints.

He was ten when he took the gun. He took it so as not to feel afraid. They put him away for it. It was his first feel of a gun, his first whiff of power. It felt heavy. When he stood it up it was taller than himself. He did not know if he would have the guts to fire it. His hands shook when he loaded it, yet he loaded it out of a knowledge he did not know he had. Then he cuddled it to himself and gave it a name, he called it Rod.
I didn’t mean to kill, only to frighten one man.
He wanted to say that, but he was not able to say it because they were beating him and shouting at him and dragging him off. There was the guard, the sergeant, his father and Joe Mangan, the bad man that threw the shovel at him and blamed him for cycling over his wet concrete and destroying it. It was not him that cycled over it, it was Joe Mangan’s own son Paud, but they blamed him. No matter what was done wrong they blamed him, and there was no one to stand up for him because his mother was dead. They said she was dead but she wasn’t, they buried her alive, suffocated her. They brought him up flights of stone stairs and into a cold room to show her lying on a slab with no colour in her cheeks and no breath. It was snowing outside. It was the snow that made her white and made the world white. She was not dead. They only told him that so as to trick him because he was her pet. They were jealous, they were. They put her in a coffin and buried her. He stole out at night and went and talked to her, and she talked back. He crept out through the window and ran across the fields to the grave at the edge of the lake. He was a cross country runner and had won a medal for it. He scraped the earth back and made a hole where he could talk down to his mother and where she could hear. She promised to come back and save him when she was less tired. His plan was that he would run away until then, live in the forest and eat nuts and berries and in the winter go from house to house to beg for food. He would give himself a secret name, Caoilte, the name of the forests.

BOOK: In the Forest
11.75Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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