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This Human Season
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
This novel set in Ulster at the Xmas time just before hunger strikes were commenced by IRA prisoners in the Maze is a very well written and researched novel of two stories run in parallel. The one is of a Catholic family whose oldest son has just gone "on the blanket" in the Maze prison and the other is of an English ex-soldier who has returned to live in Northern Ireland to be a prison guard in the Maze and the son who he has never met coming to visit him shortly after.
The skill with which the two stories are developed alongside each other by the simple structure of alternating chapters between the two stories and neither story ever interacting even at the end (though events such as a prison visit bring them in proximity) is a masterful technique I have not seen used before in a novel and
allows a true panorama to be created.
The evoking of that period with the capturing of all its historic emotion for both catholic and protestant communities and the spot on depiction of endless abusing of events by different factions for their own personal selfish ends is what makes this novel so memorable.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 21 March 2006
A friend from Ballymurphy recommended this to me, a novel that takes place around Christmas 1979 as seen through two characters who never meet: Kathleen Moran, a West Belfast mother, wife, and weary at the age of 40, with one son contemplating the looming choice to go on hunger strike in Long Kesh prison. There, guard John Dunn, a veteran of the British Army who has already done three tours in the North of Ireland, decides to work for the increased pay given for such hazardous duty, not only on the inside, but as a target outside the walls from both embittered Loyalists as well as hostile Republicans.
Dean tells these two tales well. She avoids cliche, does not show off an overly literary style, preferring to keep more inside, via indirect narration, the perspectives largely limited to Kathleen and John. As the novel progresses, we begin to see more about their partners, their pasts, their relatives, and the reasons they both choose to endure the North rather than flee for less embattled, more leisurely, climes. The alternation, every chapter, of their two stories helps avoid melodrama or predictability. By no means a "Troubles thriller" or a hackneyed hand-wringing liberal plaint, the author--as her acknowledgments show in the appendix, has by interviewing and listening to the real people who lived through this time been able to mix their experiences into fiction that passes for fact, as limited to two frail people recognizably very human.
While I in turn recommend this book, a few very minor points prevented it from earning a full five stars. Twice the names of Cardinal O Fiach and the first name of Eamon[n] are misspelled--this shows a shortsighted editor; the misspelling of the area of Twinbrook, again a miniscule slip, again makes me wish a bit more attention had been paid to such telling details so that they rang as true as possible. Some of the supporting characters, such as Lingard's wife, the priest Father Pearse, Brendan the Sinn Fein publicist, and O'Malley the IRA OC, perhaps based on real folks, do not always share the same depth as the main characters, and therefore leave the reader a bit let down. Finally, there is what seems to be a half-visible subplot about Loyalists having been attacked by the guards and the resulting backlash from those on the outside against John and his colleagues that remains too vaguely developed.
In closing, this book effectively avoids what I thought would be the pat ending, and Dean, nearly to the conclusion, manages to freshen up what has by now decades on become its own often all too predictable genre of British literature. The pace does weary just short of the finish line. Yet, the two leading characters, by their refusal to become either plaster saints or evil figurines, earn the reader's trust and empathy.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 26 July 2005
Many books today present the reader with a confliction of ideas or two opposing sides battling it out for a conclusion. Then when this conclusion passes, the reader more or less feels coerced into jumping on board with that outcome.
'This Human Season's' conflict however stays with you after the last few pages, and even after the few weeks following the end of the book. Louise Dean writes with such eloquence and yet morbid flattery that it becomes reminiscent of Alexander Trocchi - forcing the reader into seeing the beauty behind the repulsive. This is in fact theme of the book - the beauty of the IRA: the families and communities surrounding the organisation and their imprisoned loved ones. We, as the reader, want to be repulsed by their bombings and selfishness yet see a silver lining on this most dark of clouds. The IRA is then set against the life of a prison guard in Northern Ireland, John Dunn, and his problems at home with a son he never knew he had and a partner he seems to mire toleration in. Yet Louise Dean never falls into the trap of making a novel that defends the IRA, which would too easily rely upon its controversy to be noticed. Her writing is far too personal and breathtaking, as we almost look entirely beyond the two sides and into a grooup of lives with problems and loves and hurts.
Presented in opposing chapters, 'This Human Season' constantly twists our allegiance until we finally realise that we shouldn't be seeking to take a side, but to simply see and breath in the two sides of the coin.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 1 August 2006
I would not have chosen to read this book had it not been for a friend at our book group. However, I found it a real education and the discussion it provoked was in the main positive.

We all have different memories of the late seventies and the impact of The Troubles is different for all of us. I was fifteen at the time the book is set and for me, the news from Northern Ireland was just that - news on the TV. So I learned a lot. I felt sympathy for both main protagonists and felt Louise Dean succeeded in being generally impartial. I cried at the death near the end. Unlike the previous reviewer, I missed the errors of spelling. But I do agree that a more careful editor was needed: one who may have noticed that the collective noun for sheep is not herd!
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 21 March 2006
A friend from Ballymurphy recommended this to me, a novel that takes place around Christmas 1979 as seen through two characters who never meet: Kathleen Moran, a West Belfast mother, wife, and weary at the age of 40, with one son contemplating the looming choice to go on hunger strike in Long Kesh prison. There, guard John Dunn, a veteran of the British Army who has already done three tours in the North of Ireland, decides to work for the increased pay given for such hazardous duty, not only on the inside, but as a target outside the walls from both embittered Loyalists as well as hostile Republicans.
Dean tells these two tales well. She avoids cliche, does not show off an overly literary style, preferring to keep more inside, via indirect narration, the perspectives largely limited to Kathleen and John. As the novel progresses, we begin to see more about their partners, their pasts, their relatives, and the reasons they both choose to endure the North rather than flee for less embattled, more leisurely, climes. The alternation, every chapter, of their two stories helps avoid melodrama or predictability. By no means a "Troubles thriller" or a hackneyed hand-wringing liberal plaint, the author--as her acknowledgments show in the appendix, has by interviewing and listening to the real people who lived through this time been able to mix their experiences into fiction that passes for fact, as limited to two frail people recognizably very human.
While I in turn recommend this book, a few very minor points prevented it from earning a full five stars. Twice the names of Cardinal O Fiach and the first name of Eamon[n] are misspelled--this shows a shortsighted editor; the misspelling of the area of Twinbrook, again a miniscule slip, again makes me wish a bit more attention had been paid to such telling details so that they rang as true as possible. Some of the supporting characters, such as Lingard's wife, the priest Father Pearse, Brendan the Sinn Fein publicist, and O'Malley the IRA OC, perhaps based on real folks, do not always share the same depth as the main characters, and therefore leave the reader a bit let down. Finally, there is what seems to be a half-visible subplot about Loyalists having been attacked by the guards and the resulting backlash from those on the outside against John and his colleagues that remains too vaguely developed.
In closing, this book effectively avoids what I thought would be the pat ending, and Dean, nearly to the conclusion, manages to freshen up what has by now decades on become its own often all too predictable genre of British literature. The pace does weary just short of the finish line. Yet, the two leading characters, by their refusal to become either plaster saints or evil figurines, earn the reader's trust and empathy.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Set in Belfast, this novel by Louise Dean focuses on the sectarian violence between Republicans and Loyalists, Catholics and Protestants, which reaches its irrational peak in the winter of 1979, and she holds back nothing in describing the brutality and tit-for-tat horrors in which both sides engage. For three years, a major protest has been going on inside The Maze, the famed prison in Long Kesh, where sadistic guards turn the miseries of prison life into horrific, inhuman conditions. In an almost clinical recitation of scenes so gross that many readers will prefer not to read them, she describes conditions, which prisoners have deliberately made worse. They refuse to wear prison uniforms, wearing no clothes at all and wrapping themselves in their blankets. They refuse to use latrines, filling their cells and halls with excrement and creating a stench so intense that guards cannot scrub it off their bodies.

Desperate for public attention for their modest demands, which have been ignored, they are about to engage in a hunger strike, the pivotal event for the action here. Putting a human face on the turmoil, the novel focuses on two families--the Morans, whose teenage son Sean has been sentenced to sixteen years at Long Kesh, and John Dunn, a 39-year-old former British soldier who has just started work as a guard. Dunn has recently connected with the British son he never knew, born out of wedlock, a young man about the same age as Sean Moran, and Dean uses parallel scenes (most touchingly, at Christmas) to show how much, on the human level, these two families have in common.

Dean illustrates the conditions and the thinking of the time as the minimal plot unfolds. Kathleen Moran, Sean's mother, becomes involved with the Relatives Action Committee. Their local priest is at odds with some other priests because he supports the hunger strike and protest. Sinn Fein is represented both inside and outside the prison, and one prisoner, who maintains IRA control within the prison, also directs retaliatory murders on guards outside the prison, in their own homes or neighborhoods.

Historical events are paramount, more than just a framework for the novel, and the reader develops a sense of horror about these events. There is little sense of identification with characters, however. The hard-case attitudes of the prisoners allow little room for character development, and the many guards, while having individual quirks, are not well differentiated. The character who comes closest to capturing the reader's interest is Dunn, but the author creates such obvious forboding about his fate and that of the other guards that many readers will be wary of becoming involved. Though the characters here are vehicles through whom information is conveyed, rather than a focus of the novel for their own sakes, Dean creates a powerful picture of seminal events--certain to interest many students of Irish history. Mary Whipple
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