|The author photo from the original edition of August is a Wicked Month is called by Wikipedia, "The greatest author photograph of all time."|
August is a Wicked Month (1965)
by Edna O'Brien
Edna O'Brien is a forerunner of the popular "chick lit" genre of the last few decades, featuring women who are sexually active and outside the normal world of marriage and children. By the mid 1960s, O'Brien wasn't the only writer working this territory, Doris Lessing for one, Francoise Sagan for another. But O'Brien was unique by virtue of her Irish heritage. Her books were banned in Ireland, and this gives her work a heroic sheen that would otherwise be absent, were the reader to judge strictly on the text itself.
Ellen, the heroine of August if a Wicked Month, is the disaffected Mother of a young boy, divorced from the father, dreaming of escape while living and working in London. When her ex takes their child to the woods for a week of camping, she decides to travel to France, where she has a variety of sexual and social encounters.
August is a Wicked Month is unremittingly dark. Ellen's behavior is understandable within the context of 20th century women's history, but it doesn't make her very likable. Her unusually frank depiction of sexual activity raises an eyebrow today, a half century after publication. She is straight forward about contracting sexually transmitted disease and methods of ejaculation. Her eagerness to engage in casual sexual encounters is almost nonparallel in the history of literature.
What appears to be a book almost without a story is brought to live with a shocking third act, that is no doubt the reason that it was included on the 2006 1001 Books list. In 2008, it got the axe, reducing O'Brien's contributions from three to two.