cover image The Bleeding Heart

The Bleeding Heart

Lionel Shriver. Farrar Straus Giroux, $22.95 (427pp) ISBN 978-0-374-11432-9

Despite its weak title, this is an exceedingly powerful, inspired novel. Shriver ( The Female of the Species ; Checkers and the Derailleurs ) is an American living in Belfast, the setting of her engrossing story. She brings to this benumbed and blighted city an outsider's eye and ear, and bestows them on her heroine, Estrin Lancaster, a charming, reckless 32-year-old American. Estrin, who has knocked about the world, becomes involved with Farrell O'Phelan, a cynical and pragmatic bomb specialist. An enigmatic, disillusioned Catholic, O'Phelan's jaundiced view of the Troubles is voiced in potent, irreverent language. The story, ultimately tragic, is woven through with threads of Irish politics and the anguish of people whose lives can take meaning only from external cues. Shriver's writing is outstandingly lucid and bright, with an original blend of American and Irish whimsical irony. Commanding both the sweep of Irish politics and the nuances of human relations, she draws a splendid map for getting nowhere. She offers no solutions, and mocks herself in the ``Glossary of Troublesome Terms'': ``Troubles Writer: A known subspecies in the North, almost always of foreign extraction. Compulsively Romeo-and-Juliets his characters across the sectarian divide. . . . Gets everything wrong, with feeling.'' (Sept.)