House of Splendid Isolation

Book: House of Splendid Isolation by Edna O’Brien

Genre: Fiction

Where I got it: The Open Door secondhand bookshop

Briefly, it’s: about an IRA terrorist on the run, who ends up sheltering in the house of an elderly widow.  It allegedly explores the nature of terrorism, and history, and relationships…

But: I wasn’t convinced.  At the level of the plot, I simply wasn’t convinced e.g. that an IRA terrorist, the wig which he was using for disguise having blown off in the wind, would not risk reclaiming it but would leave it lying around as evidence.  Or, at a critical point in the plot, that he would go back to the “Big House” knowing that it was watched by the Gardaí.  Or that he would have a kind of “aha moment” on reading the widow’s uncle’s 1921 IRA volunteer’s journal.  Or even that the IRA volunteer in 1921 would have kept such a journal, containing such information.  Above all, I wasn’t convinced by his unfailing “niceness” to Josie.

In general, I’m with the reviewers in the The Independent and The New York Times : a good try, with many excellent passages, but overall it doesn’t work.

On the last page, “the child” (a technique I found confusing, slightly gruesome, and slightly bathetic) talks about “go[ing] right into the heart of the hate and the wrong” – but I don’t think the book did that.  It didn’t go into the heart of the hate.  It was too simplistic, in a strangely complicated way.

What I liked: The sections about Josie’s early life and marriage.  This is where O’Brien seems to get it right.  I understand that this is really her forte, and so perhaps I should be open to reading some of her other works in the future.

Challenges: Edna O’Brien was born in Tuamgraney, Co. Clare; this counts as my Clare book in my Read Around Munster personal challenge.


Sihpromatum – I Grew my Boobs in China

Book: Sihpromatum – I Grew my Boobs in China, by Savannah Grace

Genre: Young Adult, travel book.

Where I got it: Free Kindle download

Briefly, it’s: the travel account of a Canadian girl who goes on a year-long backpacking adventure through China, Mongolia, and Russia with her mother, brother and sister.  Savannah was 14 when her mother decided to do this and – according to herself – she had no option, it was foisted on her much against her will, and she hated it.  At first.  But gradually she came to accept and appreciate it.  This is her account of the time in China and Mongolia.

What I liked:
– It’s an interesting story, one family’s way of responding to divorce!
– Savannah’s gradual ‘conversion’ from a very self-centred, narrow, materialistic view of the world to an appreciation of other cultures and values;
– the last 40% of the book, about Mongolia, gives a fascinating glimpse of a country very little known to me, with a hugely different civilisation and different values than those of the ‘developed’, western world.  I’d like to read more about Mongolia: its extremes of heat and cold, its vast spaces, wild horses and camels, and its nomadic peoples – poor and “undeveloped”, but rich in knowledge of the land and in hospitality towards strangers.

What I didn’t like so much:
– at first the author comes across as very negative, whingey, and self-pitying, pouring out negative energy all the time.  She must have been a PITA to live with.
– too much time at the beginning talking about the preparations for the trip; my Kindle showed I was at the 10% mark and they still hadn’t got on the road.
– I’m not a Young Adult, so some of the more teenage stuff wasn’t my cup of tea.

Anything else: I didn’t realise when I downloaded the book that it’s the first in a series. So I was disappointed that this book doesn’t cover Russia too.  And it seems from the website that many other travels followed.

Reading Round Ireland: Personal Goal

I’ve been thinking for quite a while that I’d like to read a book by an author from every one of the 32 counties in Ireland, so I’m making it into a personal goal for myself.  It won’t be time-limited, because that’s how I set myself up for failure and feel bad, instead of feeling good about all I have read.  (Though perhaps I will set myself a target of five years… say to the end of 2018.  Wow, sounds ages away!)

I’ll make a page where I’ll list my books, and I’ll focus on Munster to begin with.  I’ve got Molly Keane’s Good Behaviour on order, and yesterday I picked up Edna O’Brien’s House of Splendid Isolation in a second-hand bookshop.  They’re good for Waterford and Clare respectively.

Dec, edited to add: I’ve made “Reading Round Munster” into a mini- personal challenge, with the goal of reading six books – one for each county – by the end of September 2014.   See the list on my Reading Round Ireland page.