O’Brien is eighty-five years old, and praising this novel for its ambition, its daring vitality, its curiosity about the present age and about the lives of those displaced by its turbulence shouldn’t be mistaken for the backhanded compliment that all this is remarkable given the author’s advanced age. It’s simply a remarkable novel.
In the end, what leaves one in humbled awe of The Little Red Chairs is O’Brien’s dexterity, her ability to shift without warning — like life — from romance to horror, from hamlet to hell, from war crimes tribunal to midsummer night’s dream. And through it all, she embeds the most perplexing moral challenge ever conceived in the struggles of one lonely, middle-aged woman who just wanted a baby but now wanders the earth along with so many others, 'craving the valleys and small instances of mercy.'”
O’Brien is not interested in sensationalizing her material, and The Little Red Chairs is not a novel of suspense, still less a mystery or a thriller; it is something more challenging, a work of meditation and penance. How does one come to terms with one’s own complicity in evil, even if that complicity is 'innocent'?