Sunday, August 27, 2017


House of Splendid Isolation
Edna O’Brien
Penguin Books

Ms. Hen decided to buy this book because she’s read other books by Edna O’Brien, and she’s enjoyed them. O’Brien is a contemporary Irish writer, and Ms. Hen thinks she writes from the gut, which is, she writes about important and disturbing things, but those that are necessary all the same, such as internal strife in Ireland, which is the subject of this book.

This novel has many different sides to it. It is about domestic terrorism in Ireland, and how it affects the people around the violence. The men and women fight for what they think is a just cause, but create so much mayhem around them, the cause seems to be lost in the bloodshed. It is also about the people affected in the violence, how the fear grows and terrorizes everyone, including young children.

This is a novel about a house, and its occupant, Josie O’Meara. The reader visits her when she is a young bride, and brought to the house by her new husband, who turns out to be a brute. In later years, she is an old woman, after being sent from a nursing home back to her house, a man name McGreevy breaks into her house to hide from the police who are chasing him. He is a terrorist with the IRA, and fighting a losing battle. Josie is afraid, but she and McGreevy become friends after a while; she pities him when she discovers his story.

Josie and McGreevy have a strange relationship. She is afraid of him, because she thinks he will kill her, but she tries to get him to open up. This novel is about how tortured an existence it is to be Irish; some people want to do the right thing and fight for their beliefs, but at the same time, they seem to have lost sight of what they are fighting for, and don’t know what’s right and wrong anymore.

Ms. Hen took pity on these characters. She read another book by O’Brien recently, THE LITTLE RED CHAIRS, and she felt the same way. O’Brien is a master of darkness and pathos, she nudges the reader into feeling for characters who have had horrific lives, and introduces the reader to the idea that everyone’s life can be miserable in its own unique way.

Irish folklore and poetry play a huge part in this novel. The police officers walk around spouting poetry, which Ms. Hen thinks is strange, because she doesn’t think any of the police where she lives would do this. But she knows other cultures are different, and in Ireland it is likely to be common for police to be literate. Also there is a scene that invokes the legend of Cu Chulainn, when a bird comes down and licks the blood of someone who has died. Ms. Hen doesn’t want to ruin the book for anyone, so she won’t tell who dies. The legend of Cu Chulainn was about the warrior who is killed, and a bird comes along and licks his blood, and that’s how the English know it’s okay to take over the country. Birds are considered bad luck in Ireland because of this tale.

There are a few hens and chickens in HOUSE OF SPLENDID ISOLATION. At one point, the criminal is on the run, and the village is in terror. They are trying to find him. “ ' Good God, he was in our yard,’ Ma Hinchy says, opening her dirndl skirt so her two children can huddle in their like chickens under a mother hen.” Since this is a rural novel, there are chickens all around, not just in metaphors and similes.

Ms. Hen loved this novel, not just because it was beautiful, but also because it was disturbing, and it made her think. She is a hen who likes to ponder how horrible the world can be, but at the same time, she tries to find beauty where she can, and is able to most of the time.

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