‘The Mouth Of The Cave’ by Edna O’Brien

The Mouth Of The Cave by Edna O’Brien, 1968

The magic trick:

Tucking a series of very complicated questions into a seemingly simple story

We start another month of Irish stories with one of the all-timers: Edna O’Brien.

It would seem this is a very simple, even slight, story. A woman walks home one day. She sees a woman on the way. She flips out with a mix of excitement, lust, and fear. Then nothing happens. And that’s about it.

But its simplicity is a ruse. This is a story that gets down to the very heart of human nature. It hints at 100 things at once. Sexuality. Innocence. Friendship. Repression. Identity. The agony of connecting who you want to be with who you should be and ultimately who you are.

That it never comes to any definitive conclusion adds to the illusion of slightness. But in fact it’s that ambiguity that is what makes the story so complicated. And that’s quite a trick on O’Brien’s part. 

The selection:

What a shock to find that nothing lurked there, no man, no animal. The bushes had not risen from the weight of her body. I reckoned that she must have been lying for quite a time. Then I saw that she, too, was returning. Had she forgotten something? Did she want to ask me a favor? Why was she hurrying? I could not see her face, her head was down. I turned and this time I ran toward the private road that led to my rented house. I thought, Why am I running, why am I trembling, why am I afraid? Because she is a woman and so am I. Because, because? I did not know.

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