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.

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