BOOK REVIEW / The yeast of Irish memory: 'The House of Splendid Isolation' - Edna O'Brien: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 14.99 pounds

THE PAINFUL tension between the private yearnings and the perceived 'duty' of an Irish Republican fighter lies at the heart of Edna O'Brien's new novel. It is a warm, womanly look at the Irish struggle from a multiplicity of angles, free from bigotry, rhetoric, chauvinism or blind patriotism.

McGreevy, convicted of terrorist offences, has escaped from prison and is on the run. He hides here and there; various people turn blind eyes. The police, exhilarated by the the thrill of the chase, are closing in. His arrival at Josie O'Meara's lonely house begins in a dramatic blend of fear and fascination on both sides. Her conditioning dictates that she should raise the alarm in some way, especially after he disappears from the house as quietly as he arrived. But she tells no one.

This is not because she is a supporter of McGreevy's cause; it derives from a growing personal feeling for him. They talk. She learns about his dead wife and child. She hides him wondering 'how many would do it themselves and like her not know why'.

Josie is a widow. Her memories of a miserable marriage are unfolded as O'Brien takes us effortlessly back and forth in time. Josie's health is not good, but McGreevy's vulpine physicality rejuvenates her. McGreevy becomes, for Josie, a transmutation of her husband Jamie in a purer, better form. He has much more charisma than the Garda men who suspiciously ransack the 'splendid house' - a form of desecration, like rape - for evidence and who disgust Josie with their 'lumpen' gait.

There can be no happy or blood-free ending for the 'beautiful tragic country' which is Ireland, any more than for the people who get enmeshed in its troubles. Although Josie and McGreevy achieve unity of a sort, it is predictably shortlived. There is a high price to be paid for attempting to temper single-minded fanaticism - the lifeblood for men like McGreevy's - with ordinary human relationships.

O'Brien's prose is incisive and evocative. Who else would describe a horse's face as a 'long peninsula' or compare a brush on the skin with caterpillars sliding off cabbages? Her often rather old- fashioned vocabulary, whose precision is distinguishably Irish, lilts along in brogue. The unobtrusive use of dialect words - 'naggon of whiskey' and 'talking raimeas' - is also part of the way in which she brings the musicality of Irish voices to the page.

House of Splendid Isolation is a more adventurous novel than O'Brien's moving story Time and Tide, which won the Writers' Guild Prize for fiction last year. The fractured narrative of this novel forces the reader to keep refocussing on different people who emit different signals at different times, while the ebb and flow of Irish history washes through the flashbacks, day- dreams and reminiscences. It is what O'Brien calls 'the yeast of memory' which drives her novel towards its tragic and inevitable conclusion.

Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?