Love and Evil. Two great mysteries that have obsessed the greatest writers and thinkers for as long as people have thought and written. For a long time Edna O’Brien, the celebrated Irish-born, London-dwelling writer, has been known as one of the literary world’s great chroniclers of love. Of love and longing and the desperate lives of souls in the pitiless grip of passion and doomed elation. A beautiful writer who has always been able to find beauty in life, even in despair. Some have likened her to Chekhov; others have compared her to James Joyce in his early Portrait of the Artist phase.
But in her latest novel, The Little Red Chairs, O’Brien shifts from love to evil. A wild and ambitious leap that takes us behind the headlines and home screens of the most tragic world news—war crimes, refugees, genocide—and which may garner her the Nobel Prize that she’s often been mentioned for and long deserved.
It just so happens that her new novel was published in America just a few days after the bang of a gavel in the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. The evil character she’d written about in thin disguise, Radovan Karadzic—a.k.a. the Beast of Bosnia—had been found guilty of war crimes and genocide for ordering the mass murder of more than 7,000 mostly Muslim men and boys in 1995, an act that brought the terrifying term “ethnic cleansing” into common use. He was found guilty, too, of ordering the deadly shelling of women, children and civilian noncombatants in the years-long siege of Sarajevo, a thriving city Karadzic turned into a graveyard. Guilty as well of participating in a horde that committed horrific up-close and personal acts of torture, rape and mutilation.