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IN BRIEF

Fiction

July 10, 1994|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

HOUSE OF SPLENDID ISOLATION by Edna O'Brien (Farrar Straus & Giroux: $21; 232 pp.) Splendid. A two-edged word if there ever was one. In this house history and myth and superstition and regret simmer under the floorboards. The almost unbearable pain and disappointment of the woman who lives there is relieved for a brief time by an Irish nationalist hiding and resting under her unwilling roof. Because this is Ireland, specifically the war in Ireland, everyone you become attached to in this novel will suffer, be haunted by his or her doubts, and be persecuted by some barbaric past involving unspeakable cruelty. The nationalist, McGeevy, supposedly an inscrutable killer, saw his 30-year-old wife gunned down with their baby (who later died of heart trouble) at her breast. The woman, an innocent new wife, watched her own heart harden under the unconscious tutelage of a blunt, violent, alcoholic husband. By the time McGeevy seeks refuge in her house, she is in her middle years, alone. But all this violence will not evaporate, it gets passed on, and this is what O'Brien captures so unobtrusively: the senseless continuation of pain.

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