THE BLEEDING HEART by Lionel Shriver


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Shriver's third, most ambitious novel (The Female of the Species, 1987; Checker and the Derailleurs, 1988) takes a sometimes mordant, more often irritatingly murky look at Northern Ireland and ""conflict groupies."" The love story of two self-loathing loners in Belfast--leather-clad American drifter Estrin Lancaster (who lifts weights to keep herself sterile and creates a lovely home in each new town so that she'll feel the pain of moving on when she inevitably leaves) and cynical Farrell O'Phelan (who has no loyalty to anyone or anything while his combination of bomb-disposal skills and dirty tricks has made him hated and yet indispensable to Catholics and Protestants alike)--could have been a good read if Shriver had made her book easier to follow. But the reader sophisticated enough to brave the disorienting morass of politics, of early chapters in which the identities of some main characters are intentionally blurred, and of prose that presents constant syntactical and metaphoric challenges is unlikely to be satisfied by the melodrama of the story, obvious parallels (of people who don't know when to stop), and pat psychology. The essay-like portions of the novel stand up best: O'Phelan's self-education about bombs; the stunningly brutal comparison of the Troubles to a desperately joyless and endless act of sexual intercourse. Meanwhile, though, Shriver's ""Glossary of Troublesome Terms,"" of interest in itself, is not organized to help the confused reader through the novel. Demanding, disappointing fiction--albeit with some powerful scenes and a valuable look at Northern Ireland.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux