‘Old Wounds’ by Edna O’Brien

This beautifully layered story, which opens back to the narrator’s great-grandparents, and her own immediate family, compresses themes of love, passion, family, fraught intent and the need to escape, which characterize much of Edna O’Brien’s fiction and is shown here to full effect. It could be said the story unfolds layers of time and emotion more fitting to a novel, but somehow, because of her skill, the story works completely. The thread through time is the narrator’s cousin, with whom she has had a close friendship. He is the anchor, but also the connector to other strands – the cause for the family breach in the first place, which is to do with his wife’s reaction to her mother-in-law. I love the fecundity of detail from the natural world, the examination of emotional dissonance, and the way the latent violence of the narrator’s father plays into the present.

First published in The New Yorker, June 2009, and available to subscribers to read online here. Collected in Saints and Sinners, Faber, 2011

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