The Doll by Edna O’Brien, 1979
The magic trick:
Halting the plot midway for a brilliant consideration of the story’s themes
It’s a Christmas gift that drives the plot initially, though I must admit it’s not much of a Christmas story overall. The focus appears to be a teacher who is comically over-the-top in her villainous treatment of the narrator. But soon it becomes clear that the teacher is only a mechanism in the machine and not the output. This is a story about home and about identity and the stressful loneliness that results when way those two things don’t align.
The narrator pulls away from the memory of her youth and delivers two paragraphs in the middle of the story that just knock the reader out. It’s part epilogue, part philosophical epiphany. And that’s quite a trick on O’Brien’s part.
The years go by and everything and everyone gets replaced. Those we knew; though absent, are yet merged inextricably into new folk so that each person is to us a sum of many others and the effect is of opening box after box in which the original is forever hidden.
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