“I did not feel sinful about missing Mass, because…”

I picked up Edna O’Brien’s Girl With Green Eyes and read it through. I’d never heard of the book before, never read any of her stuff. It’s great.

The story’s about Cait, a country girl living in Dublin, working a shitty job in a grocery store. She and her pal Baba, also a country girl, drink gin and tonics (“not because we liked the taste, but because we wanted to look fast”) and say things like “let’s go to a hop”.

Cait falls in love with a man who has a wife – divorced – and child in America. She has sex with him. Sex! In 1962! In Ireland – where women are brought up to think of sex as “something unmentionable, which a woman had to pretend to like, to please a husband.” Even before the sex her alcoholic father comes up from the country to kidnap her back to morality.

It’s class. When Cait is on her way to see her man it’s a Sunday morning and she skips Mass. She says: “I did not feel sinful about missing Mass, because it was early and I had washed my hair.”

This is a world where young women put pancakes on their back to suppress their spots; where you’re given a cup of something miserable called hot senna when you’re sick; where a girl’s period is referred to as her “bad time”; where inside a church door women fill lemonade bottles with holy water; where it is disrespectful to a priest for a woman to cross her legs in his presence – this is the world of our parents’ youth.

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