In this, the third and presumably final volume of his Agnes Browne trilogy, Brendan O’Carroll sends poor Agnes off to heaven at the relatively young age of 60. All her living children and grandchildren are around, including a son with whom she is reconciled at the last possible second. Agnes has had, God knows, a hard life. Beaten and deserted by her husband, she has raised her brood by herself. One of her daughters is a battered wife, one of her sons is a convict, another son is gay, yet another lives in England. No wonder she is often tired and discouraged. However, Granny Browne is resilient. While she is ready to go to the world beyond at the invitation of one of her old friends who is already there, she looks back on her life with joy and pride.
If this sounds like soap opera, it is, albeit Irish soap opera. The trilogy is based on O’Carroll’s popular Irish television series (from which the Anjelica Huston film was made). The story line is not very strong, and the writing is not very smooth. But within its genre the book works. Many women who normally have solid literary tastes can hardly wait for the latest Agnes Browne bookand several are demanding at this very moment that I finish my review so they can devour my copy of the book. Needless to say, they have already identified with poor Agnes.
The story may be sentimental, but it is very, very Irish in its sentiment. Good, solid, tear-stirring Irish sentiment covers a multitude of literary sins. Moreover O’Carroll has a fine feel for the social and economic changes in Ireland during the last several decades. He tells that story too, though he never once mentions that he is doing so.
He also has a fine ear for the way the Irish speak. That means that his characters have mastered the Irish skill at obscenity and scatology. The dialogue isn’t habit-forming, as it is in Roddy Doyle’s novels, but it is nonetheless lively, for want of a better word. As I have often said, the Irish mean no harm when they use such language. Indeed, they talk the way they do with an innocence that excuses them from being offensive.
If you are an Agnes Browne fan, you’ll love this book. If you’re not, now you can understand why it appeals to so many people.