The Ante Room by Kate O'Brien - review by Martin Murphy

Martin Murphy

Missed Her Vocation

The Ante Room


Virago £4.99 order from our bookshop

The inclusion of Kate O'Brien in the Virago canon does credit to the publisher's even-handedness. The author is certainly not a feminist writer, and even her Irishness is not of the conventional sort. She rarely indulges in irony, or in the fun of the phrase that might be expected of a Munsterwoman. Her Ireland is one which has been under-represented in the standard works. It is the Ireland of the provincial Catholic bourgeoisie whose prosperity was based on trade and who, having made their money at the till, moved out into the country to build themselves solid houses with names like Rosemount and Tivoli. There, overlooking the source of their wealth, they set about proving by the shine of their silver and the polish of their mahogany that they were a match for the disdainful Anglo-Irish neighbours who regarded them as priest-ridden parvenus. They took their religion from Rome, their work-ethic from Bradford, and their life-style from Harrogate. Their grandfathers owed their freedom to O'Connell, but Parnell made them nervous and they sent their sons to be educated at Stonyhurst and to die in Flanders.

This late 19th century background is delicately sketched in The Ante-Room, but the theme is more universal. Old Teresa Mulqueen is dying, and as her children gather below, we become aware of the frustrated passions which gasp for air amid the over-furnished comfort. Spoiled by doting servants, her children have

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