House of Splendid Isolation

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The heroine of HOUSE OF SPLENDID ISOLATION, Josie O’Meara, is a recognizable Edna O’Brien character. Not only are her experiences set in a landscape similar to that found in the author’s previous Irish novels, but like the protagonists of many of those works, she is an abused spouse, possessed of a passionate intelligence and strong emotional needs, the very intensity of whose nature makes her a social misfit. The history of Josie’s marriage follows a pattern which the large number of this novelist’s faithful readers will readily discern, and is told with rare verve and economy.

Into the isolated world of Josie’s widowhood comes McGreevy, an I.R.A. terrorist who is on the run. Initially his prisoner, Josie finds herself stimulated by and drawn to McGreevy’s personality, while reserving her judgment regarding his cause. She finds him a counterpart to her own suffering and feelings of being unwanted. His coldly chivalric presence permits her to think of him positively as her custodian.

The story of this unlikely relationship, which is rich in the psychological and political resonances of devotion, sacrifice, and the dictates of the blood, is interleaved with vignettes of Josie’s past. The developing police hunt for McGreevy is also portrayed, as is an account of Josie’s effort to compensate from the deficiencies of her marriage. In that way, the narrative implicates many different dimensions of modern Irish life. The lives of women, North-South relations in Ireland, the legacy of Irish history, and the ideology of the I.R.A. are among the most salient of these dimensions. However splendid the isolation of the house may be, all those associated with it fall victim to the machinations of the larger, impersonal world, thereby allowing the author to express their destinies in her familiar combination of daring and pity.