HIDDEN SYMPTOMS by Deirdre Madden


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Short first novel about death, belief, and despair in strife-torn Belfast. Earnest and quietly moving at its best, the book strives to avoid its subject's twin pitfalls of polemic and melodrama--and very largely succeeds. The reader meets Theresa Cassidy, 23-year-old university student in English literature, and knows of her at first only that she has a cast in one eye, is outspoken and rather brilliant about ""matters literary,"" and, in looks, is strangely ""angular and androgynous."" Gradually, however, the truth is revealed: that Theresa has been living a life of despair for the two years since her dearly loved twin brother Francis, himself unpolitical, was gratuitously murdered by Protestant terrorists. The story's working out is the working out of Theresa's great and consuming (maybe even perverse) grief, though this is done mainly by a skillful indirection, revealed gradually through memory, flashback (to a trip in Italy the summer before Francis died), and through Theresa's day-to-day involvement with classmate Kathy O'Gorman, and with Kathy's class-conscious and insensitive writer-lover, Robert McConville. Plot-risks multiply as Kathy discovers that her father, thought to be dead for 20 years, is living in London, with wife and new family: this places Kathy among the ""living"" (she immediately leaves Robert McConville), while Theresa is left only with memory of the dead (her own father, too, is dead), and only in the company of that other sort of ""dead,"" namely the remaindered Robert McConville, whose snobby, nonpolitical intellectualism and insensitivity to faith drive a wedge forever between him and Theresa. Though it flirts with the maudlin, takes some embarrassing shortcuts, and ends with a top-heavy dialogue on Catholicism, the novel steers its course mainly toward the more effective center: with the thematic ambitiousness of Joyce (there are allusions throughout); the eye for atmosphere and mood of the early Brian Moore; and, not least, with the fetching creation of the intelligent, uncompromisingly passionate Theresa Cassidy. Well above average, at moments exceptional.

Pub Date: Jan. 28th, 1986
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown