Eimear McBride at The New Statesman:
The book’s journey from pen to pyre and thereafter to the status of a cherished classic frontloads any approach to it with political meaning. But it would be a shame to allow the book’s tumultuous history to distract from its literary and artistic treasure. By turns beautiful and bawdy, funny and haunting, The Country Girls, often referred to as the quintessential tale of Irish girlhood, is not the novel that broke the mould, it is the one that made it.
In essence the trilogy comprises the intertwined and, latterly, internarrated stories of Caithleen/Cait/Kate Brady and Bridget/Baba Brennan, two girls – sometimes allies, sometimes enemies – who have grown up together in the stifling religious atmosphere of 1950s rural Ireland. When we first encounter them, both are still schoolgirls. Cait lives with her gentle, adoring mother, who is something of a martyr to the antics of her violent alcoholic husband, who terrorises them both with his binges and financial ineptitude. The family’s sole preserve is Hickey, the underpaid farmhand who keeps the place going and, only occasionally, helps himself to a free chicken. Hickey’s simple warmth and reliability are balm to the drink-torn household, and mother and daughter alike live in fear of his moving on to better-paid work.