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Edna O'Brien

'New Critical Perspectives'


Edited By Maureen O'Connor, Kathryn Laing and Sinead Mooney

The essays collected in Edna O’Brien: New Critical Perspectives illustrate the range, complexity and interest of O’Brien as a fiction writer and dramatist. Together they contribute to a broader appreciation of her work and to an evolution of new critical approaches, as well as igniting greater interest in the many unexplored areas of her considerable oeuvre.

The contributors who include new and established scholars in the field of O’Brien criticism, are Rebecca Pelan, Maureen O’Connor, Michelle Woods, Bertrand Cardin, Ann Norton, Eve Stoddard, Michael Harris, Loredana Salis, Shirley Peterson, Patricia Coughlan, Sinéad Mooney, and Mary Burke.

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7 | Outside History: Relocation and Dislocation in Edna O’Brien’s House of Splendid Isolation

7 | Outside History: Relocation and Dislocation in Edna O’Brien’s House of Splendid Isolation


Michael Harris

Edna O’Brien’s is not a name that one often hears in discussions of postmodernism. Nevertheless, her novel House of Splendid Isolation, which some reviewers have described as a new departure for O’Brien, contains postmodernist elements.1 For instance, the novel is suggestive of pastiche in its almost random juxtaposition of diary entries, snippets of poems, a children’s fable, Irish mythology, a 1921 IRA volunteer’s journal, and personal notes (included without any introduction) interspersed throughout its short, staccato sections of narrative.2 These italicized insertions make it difficult to fit the story within the framework of a known history, a de-familiarizing strategy often employed in postmodernist fiction. The narrative itself proceeds achronologically through fragmented bits and pieces that the reader must fit together. This fragmented style, reminiscent of the crosscutting techniques in contemporary cinema and television, makes House of Splendid Isolation at times confusing. The novel opens with a short section entitled ‘The Child’, in which an initially unidentifiable voice speaks from a position outside of time, retrospectively prophetic, as if from the grave. The following ←122 | 123→section entitled ‘The Present’ begins by describing the Northern Irish IRA gunman McGreevy, hiding under a tree as he is pursued by a police helicopter. Then Garda Rory Purcell is presented in a domestic scene with his wife, son, and daughter. The Purcells are watching a newscast about an ‘escaped terrorist’ who turns out to be McGreevy. Subsequent sections follow McGreevy as he makes his way south to the Irish Republic....

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