Top critical review
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Good, not great
on 10 July 2009
One of the "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die". An account of a three year sentence in Borstal for intent to plant an IRA bomb in Liverpool.
"We are the kids our mothers warned us against" says Behan at one point to a fellow inmate. But he convinces us through his portrayal of them all that they are human beings like us, notwithstanding their crimes, including murder and rape. And Behan himself is a masterful handler of other people. He remarks at one point that of course he believes in carrying the struggle to the English - only not too strongly when he happens to be in an English prison. He, and sometimes his friends, grow up. The narrative is, to some extent, from darkness into light.
The book has many strengths and many pleasures for the reader. But...not, in my view, one of the great books of our time...for being institutionalised, try Primo Levi's book, If This Is A Man, about life in a concentration camp. And for a prison novel, try John Cheever, Falconer.