Conference Contribution Details
Mandatory Fields
Maureen O'Connor
The First Ómós Áite: Space/Place Research Network International Conference (invited presentation)
Alone in a Fantasy Lifeworld: Vanishing Wilderness and Violence in Edna O’Brien’s In the Forest
NUI, Galway
Invited Lectures (Conference)
Optional Fields
Edna O’Brien’s controversial 2002 novel, In the Forest, based on the murder of a young woman, her son, and a priest in East Clare, opens with a description of a threatened and threatening woodland, followed by a dream, a terrifying fantasy of eco-revenge: ‘the tall trees no longer static but moving like giants, … their green needly paws reaching out to scratch’. Dreams and fairy tales, including those in Irish legend, permeate the text. The dark side of fairy tales dominates this novel of poisoned childhood and desecrated nature. The opening dream is inspired by a search of those woods for the murderer, Michen O’Kane, nicknamed ‘Kinderschreck’ by the local community. O’Kane—repeatedly identified in the text as a ‘country boy’—son of poor farmers, is a local, but an outsider from childhood. After his mother dies, he attempts to flee to the woods and live independently there, but is shuttled through a series of Irish religious institutions and goes on to prison in England and further brutal institutionalisation. He returns to the village of his childhood, where no one will claim him and yet where he is allowed to terrorise the community. Enchantment, lore, fairy tales and fantasies are solitary nightmares, not sources of social cohesion for a local populace in an increasingly anonymous, suburbanising village no longer connected to place. The East Clare villagers of the novel, including O’Kane, are trapped between an older nature-based tradition that endures, but only barely, in a landscape being rapidly despoiled, a growing disengagement with tragic consequences