The Marriage Bed

The Marriage Bed

A Novel

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Deirdre O'Breen is fourteen when she flees the primitive Great Blasket Island, leaving a stunning family secret in her wake before she arrives on the mainland. There, she finds a foreign, civilized world -- and Manus, the architect son of a wealthy, devout family. Together Deirdre and Manus build a marriage that, like Dublin itself, is fraught with hope and threatened by legacies. When Deirdre's secret resurfaces, she is forced to confront the questions "How much of our parents do we carry? Do their sins and frailties shape who we become to our own children?"
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  • Touchstone | 
  • 304 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743254991 | 
  • June 2005
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

1910

Merrion Square

Dublin


My husband's mother had decorated the little room at the back of the house with me in mind. It was a room meant for solitude, for revery and prayer, because the face I had presented then, fifteen years before, had suggested a contemplative girl, a girl given to intercourse with the saints. To her I was an unassuming girl, a kind of empty vessel like the Virgin Mary, who would carry holiness in her womb. They were an ecclesiastical family; she wanted her son to father a priest.

A fortnight or two after we were married, and before Manus and I left Kenmare in the west,... see more

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide for The Marriage Bed
1. Think about Deirdre's relationships with her daughters; her panic at the thought of not being with them. Why is this so powerful in her? Why is she afraid to let them go into the world? Is it them she fears for, or is it, as Maighread says to her, "It's you who would be unmoored in the world." We learn as the story goes on, how deeply Deirdre loves each of them. How would you identify the active force in Deirdre, which enables her to finally take charge of her own life? Is it related to her attachment to and love for her daughters? What is the significance of her daughters accompanying her to the Great Blasket Island near the end of the book?
2. After they escape to the garden rooms early in their marriage, Deirdre and Manus find the Secretus Secretorum and read from its pages. Manus reads aloud: "Inside each of us there is a heaven and hell and a universe outside of us...all the order and the chaos of the universe exists within the human heart" (158). Deirdre then goes on to read: "The created world began with a separation of opposites, the tearing apart of the united opposites. Injustice is incurred by the existence of separate things" (158). What does the imagery in these quotes bring to mind? What kinds of injustices has Deirdre suffered and how have they contributed to the chaos in her own soul? Are there "separate things" in Deirdre's life that prevent her from reconciling the warring elements inside he see more

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