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Monday, February 25, 2008

House of Splendid Isolation (Feb. 08)

I chose to read Edna O’Brien’s The House of Splendid Isolation because I read somewhere that it had to do with the political climate in Ireland and the longstanding struggle between the people there. I have a passion for Irish history, in part because my grandmother is from Belfast, and in part because of the good friends I have in Northern Ireland and the time I’ve spent there. Having read the book, I’m not really sure what to say about it …

First off, it was very difficult to get into. After a few chapters I got used to the author’s unusual language so that helped a bit. Second, the story jumped around a lot. This also took some getting used to, and I wasn’t always able to keep up. Finally, the very end is confusing – and I really hate that about any book. The last chapter is told from the point of view of a child, supposedly Josie’s child, but she has no children. Is this meant to be a spiritual child, the one she aborted early in her marriage? Or is this some sort of symbol of Ireland again? I just don’t get it, and that is very frustrating to me.

The NY Times also had issues with the overblown prose and wandering nature of the novel, but I think the reviewer summarized it much better than I could. Here’s an excerpt from his review:

[The book] leaves us with a vivid image of Ireland today. Here is a study of the nature of war: the sorry operations of love and hate that unite husband and wife, the police and protester, the civilian and the I.R.A. And behind the story, in the lives of minor characters, we glimpse the Republic's ambivalent attitude to Ulster, the south's memory of its own bloody revolution, the unremitting horror and injustice of British occupation. Ms. O'Brien has gone behind the newspaper headlines of bombings, atrocities and midnight murders and finds there only good intentions, blind devotion, stalemate and ruin. All of it unnecessary, all of it sadly human.

This is a brave book, and if it does not altogether succeed, the attempt nonetheless merits praise. Edna O'Brien has shown that all wars begin at home.

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