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The Ante-Room (1934)

by Kate O'Brien

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1985115,808 (3.53)47
Ireland, 1880 and a prosperous, provincial family observes the three great autumnal feasts of the Church. As Teresa Mulqueen lies dying, her family gather round her and beneath this drama another, no less poignant, unfolds. Unmarried daughter Agnes awaits the return of her sister Marie-Rose and brother-in-law Vincent. She adores her sister, but secretly, pasionately, loves Vincent. And their marriage, she knows, is unhappy...Ahead lies a terrible battle between her uncompromising faith and the intensity of her love. In this delicately imagined novel, originally published in 1934, Kate O'Brien lays bare the struggles between personal need and the Catholic faith with the sympathy and insight which is the hallmark of her craft.… (more)
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» See also 47 mentions

Showing 5 of 5
The Ante-Room is set over the course of just a few days in 1880. Agnes Mulqueen lives with her father, brother, and mother, who is dying from cancer. When Agnes’s older sister Marie-Rose arrives for a visit, she brings her husband, Vincent, along with her—and Agnes must deal with the feelings she has for her brother-in-law.

This is another one of those books I really wanted to like. But because the characters spend so much time waiting, the novel drags a lot, especially towards the middle. Agnes’s struggle—her love her Vincent versus her extremely strong faith—could be interesting, but I just found it dull after a while. I found myself wishing that Agnes would just grow herself a backbone, since she allows people to walk all over her. Actually, none of the characters are particularly likeable, except maybe poor Dr. Curran, who actually seems like a decent guy. Even Teresa Mulqueen, who I’d normally feel sorry for, isn’t all that sympathetic. But the author is a gifted writer, and she touches on her characters struggles with a great amount of compassion. Since I like Kate O’Brien’s prose style, I’ll read more books by her. ( )
  Kasthu | Sep 14, 2010 |
A bleak story of unhappy or doomed relationships. ( )
  wigsonthegreen | Jan 3, 2010 |
Found this to be very depressing .......still, I managed to read it to the end
  SiobhM | Nov 17, 2009 |
Kate O’Brian is one of the most beautiful writers. It’s hard, even now, to extract myself from the story and view it as a piece of writing.

Each character brings their own problems to the table, both emotional and physical, which spill over onto each other. There is a focus on the nature of love and marriage. Dr Curren is looking for a wife and mother of his children who he can fall in love with later. Vincent and Marie-Rose had a romantic courtship but his love for Agnes destroys their relationship.

We also see the dangers of the mother/son relationship. Vincent, who could only be himself with his mother, is crushed by her death. Syphilitic Reggie’s reason for living is completely created by his mother.

The sin and sensation contrast with the grandeur of the Mulqueen house. Dinner parties are thrown with the doctors as Teresa lies dieing upstairs. Vincent and Agnes sit by each other pretending they aren’t in love and nothing is wrong.

Agnes’s reaction to her love for Vincent was incredibly realistic and poignant. She doesn’t want to confess because she doesn’t want to give up her love. The impossible love that makes her miserable also makes her happy.

The characters rely on religion to make them happy. Agnes wants her love to be erased by confession and Teresa depends on God to look after Reggie after her death. But really both problems are ‘solved’ by the scheming and sin of the earth bound characters.

The Ante-Room creates a beautiful portrait of family life and how it affects us. It shows the internal thoughts of the characters beautifully. Its language is incredibly beautiful. There is no other word for it, it’s a beautiful novel and, although there is no particular immediacy about the plot, it’s a pleasure to loose yourself in. ( )
2 vote Staramber | Dec 24, 2006 |
This is the story of a late 19th Century well-to-do Irish Catholic household, following the lives of its inhabitants over three days. There are many characters in this story – a mother dying of cancer and casting a long shadow over the household; her long suffering husband; some of her children – spoiled, syphilitic Reggie, chatelaine Agnes and married Marie; strange son-in-law Vincent; and family doctor William Curren. And this is just some of them!

This is not a short book, even if it is set over a short period of time, and is full of characters; but it is not very involving – perhaps this is because none of the characters are particularly likeable or engaging. Everyone comes across as being quite spoiled and bland – even the dying mother comes across as a silly woman who has continued to play favourites with her children and keeps herself alive for the least worthy of the brood. Or Agnes, ostensibly the heroine of the story – you just want to shake her and tell her to get on with her life and stop feeling sorry for herself.

This book has a lot of potential – multiple characters with complex relationships, an intense situation, an interesting historical setting (Bourgeoisie Catholic Ireland) – but it drags. The reader will continue to turn the pages in anticipation of reading a twist somewhere, but instead it slowly rolls towards the obvious conclusion. ( )
1 vote ForrestFamily | Mar 22, 2006 |
Showing 5 of 5
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» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kate O'Brienprimary authorall editionscalculated
Madden, DeidreAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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To Nance and Stephen O'Mara under whose kind roof the greater part of this book was written. I dedicate it with my love and gratitude
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By eight o'clock the last day of October was about as well lighted as it would be.
On the Eve of All Saints, 1880, a dinner is held in Rosehelm, the Mulqueen family home. (Afterword)
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Ireland, 1880 and a prosperous, provincial family observes the three great autumnal feasts of the Church. As Teresa Mulqueen lies dying, her family gather round her and beneath this drama another, no less poignant, unfolds. Unmarried daughter Agnes awaits the return of her sister Marie-Rose and brother-in-law Vincent. She adores her sister, but secretly, pasionately, loves Vincent. And their marriage, she knows, is unhappy...Ahead lies a terrible battle between her uncompromising faith and the intensity of her love. In this delicately imagined novel, originally published in 1934, Kate O'Brien lays bare the struggles between personal need and the Catholic faith with the sympathy and insight which is the hallmark of her craft.

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From the back cover of the 1989 Virago Penguin edition:

"Passionately, as if afraid of finding out its casuistry, she hurled this faith of hers to heaven - but without pausing in it was swept on to where, in human terms, her great guilt lay."

The events of this rich and intricate novel take place over three October days in Ireland of the 1880s. As Teresa Mulqueen lies dying her family gather round her, and beneath this drama another, no less poignant, unfolds. In a house of stillness and shadow her daughter Agnes awaits the return of her sister Marie-Rose and brother-in-law Vincent, remembering the old days of radiant inconsequence long past, of flirtations, billet-doux and shared sibling secrets. But she dreads the arrival of Marie-Rose for, in seeking refuge from their unhappy marriage, both husband and wife turn to her. Agnes adores her sister, but secretly, passionately, loves Vincent: ahead lies a terrible battle between conscience and desire . . . In this delicately imagined novel, originally published in 1934, Kate O'Brien lays bare the struggles between personal need and the Catholic faith with the sympathy and insight which is the hallmark of her craft.
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