Down by the River (novel)

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Down by the River is a 1997 novel by Irish novelist Edna O'Brien. The novel depicts the response of a local community the a girl, Mary, abuse by her father being exposed to their local community when she tries to get an abortion. The ensuing legal battle in a country which bans abortions.[1]

The novel was based on a real life story from 1992, when a similar case ignited controversy in both Ireland and the UK.[1][2] The novel highlights the psychological realities of such attention on the girl, as she struggles with her abuse.[2]


Reception of the novel was generally positive focusing on O'Brien's prose and critique of Irish culture. Publisher's Weekly described the novel as effective "Taking Mary's point of view, and revealing the full horror and pathos of her heroine's plight only gradually, O'Brien creates a stark, unflinching story. But a simultaneous poetic sense also embues the narrative with beauty and grace."[1]

The New York Times greatly praised the novel, describing the novel as a continuation of O'Brien's earlier efforts: "Earlier in her career, she wrote with a wit and ferocity that were enhanced by the sweetness and simplicity of her style. Her old weapons were sharp and effective; perhaps she comes too late to this particular fight."[2]

Though Kirkus Reviews praised the novel as "one of the most ferocious indictments of Gaelic life and culture since The Playboy of the Western World,"[3] it describes the novel as not entirely satisfying with a "propagandistic tone and two-dimensional characterizations."[3]


  1. ^ a b c "Fiction Book Review: Down by the River by Edna O'Brien". Retrieved 2016-03-02.
  2. ^ a b c Mantel, Hilary (May 25, 1997). "Saved From Drowning". The New York Times Review of Books.
  3. ^ a b "DOWN BY THE RIVER by Edna OBrien | Kirkus Reviews". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 2016-03-03.