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House of Splendid Isolation ()

Feminista 100 Greatest Works of 20th Century Fiction by Women Writers

Josie O'Meara, an aging Irish widow, lives in a large West Country house, alone with her ghosts. Years ago, her drunken loutish husband was gunned down by the Guarda after hiding IRA arms on the property. Now, McGreevy, an IRA gunman on the run, has chosen her house as a hiding place. The two start as bitter enemies, but gradually develop a tentative understanding, as they come to understand the losses that the other has suffered. But all ends in tragedy, as the Guarda returns to the House.

O'Brien writes in luxuriant prose, but it's that kind of writing where you think there are sentences or words missing. She seems to assume that you understand more than you do.

But the bigger flaw in the book, is her misunderstanding (shared by many) of the Irish troubles in their modern form. She sees them as something intrinsic to Ireland and the Irish, a bitter violent history seeping from the soil. In fact, the really violent period of Irish history was an outgrowth of the Cold War.  The struggle had long ceased to be about Ireland and unity and had instead devolved into a simple matter of radical Left opposition to the British. As a result, the collapse of the Soviet Union has taken the IRA with it and brought an end to the "troubles".

That said, her unique prose style and her obvious empathy for her characters, make this one a marginally worthwhile read.


Grade: (C)


Book-related and General Links:
    -Litchat with Edna O'Brien (Salon)
    -INTERVIEW: Edna O'Brian (The Atlantic)


I foung O'Brien's book to be well thought out as well as well organized for the type of feel she wanted the reader to enocounter. O'Brien sees the importance of Irish History, as all Ireland's writers do. It is ingrained in the Irish way of life. O'Brien's House of Splendid Isolation is no exception. She knows what she is talking about when it comes to knowing the IRA and the importance it is to the Irish Heritage.

- Taylor

- May-01-2004, 16:18


I found Edna O'Brien's book to be fascinating. True, she wrote in such a way that there were bits and pieces cut from the story, but its the same way in life. Bits and pieces are left untold and cut from history. It was both a romance and a mystery and I enjoyed it very much. However, I disagree with the comment made about the period of violence in the book. There was literally blood in the soil. And there still is now. The price to be paid will never be fulfilled.

- Quinn

- Apr-19-2004, 13:49