I posted my review of The O’Briens yesterday. Thanks to his publisher, House of Anansi Press, KevinfromCanada is honored to present a guest post from author Peter Behrens.
Family connections in The O’Briens
The O’Briens is a novel — it’s fiction — but also a family story, for me. My previous novel, The Law of Dreams was based on the story of my great-great grandfather, of whom I know very little, other than that he was an O’Brien and emigrated from Co. Clare to Canada during the Great Famine in Ireland. In history, the stories of the very poor are usually lost, so I had to make most of his story up: but I always had that real person in mind.
Now, that emigrant’s grandson was my grandfather, also an O’Brien; and this book is his story. And his wife’s and children’s stories, too. The O’Briens is not a history or memoir, and large chunks of it come straight out of my storyteller’s imagination — but many of the scenes are borrowed from the history of our family. My grandfather worked in the railway construction business in Western Canada during the railway boom before WWI. The scene of Mike coming home from the war, and appearing at the house in Westmount while the family was having dinner, and them all thinking he was in North Africa — that’s a story I have known all my life.
My mother’s name was Frankie O’Brien. I always thought it was a great name for an Irish bar — but my mum was a Montreal debutante. My family have always seemed mythic, to me. My grandparents lived in a big house, over the hill from our house. Their silences were awesome, and the sense that they belonged to another world, was intriguing and mystifying. My aunts and uncles were the most glamorous people I knew. Those generations have slipped away now, and maybe that’s what allowed me to write their story, and to tell it as a novel.The other thing was, no one in my family ever talked about things like motives; about why they acted the way they did. No one ever interrogated their own behavior, habits, compulsions. I think that generation of Canadians were pre-psychological: they weren’t much interested in analyzing their own behaviour. They just acted.
I’ve always known that I was going to write this book. Just had to figure out a way to tell it.
I’ve attached a photo of Frankie O’Brien.