5/5 for effort,
This review is from: Terrible Beauty (Hardcover)
Commencing a work of fiction about Northern Ireland's Troubles must be a daunting experience. It is a topic much studied and of course much argued about. To begin such a work as an Englishman with no particular ties to the province must be quite terrifying. To Frankland's credit he has done his research. His understanding of the key events that have punctuated the Province's tragic history from 1968 right up until the last decade is sound and he articulates this well in his exposition of events such as Buntollet and Bloody Sunday. He relates these passages with pace and verve which keep the reader engaged and keen to find out where the story is going.
Unfortunately other aspects of the book less connected to the troubles but crucial nonetheless, are dealt with poorly. Perhaps the best example of this is the academic life of his Catholic protagonist. Frankland does not seem to know where Queen's is in relation to the rest of the city and at no point does Sean seem anything like a Professor of anything let alone literature. This is perhaps a minor criticism but it is symptomatic of the novel's key problem which is inconsistency. Sometimes Davy, the Protestant, is well written and believable. He is at his most convincing during the attack on the South Armagh barracks and in North America where his actions and emotions are acutely and effectively explored. At other times though he is one dimensional in the extreme. We are regularly told that he has a dark and slightly sinister temperament and yet we never know quite why. More importantly we never really understand quite why he moves from a rational and pragmatic position on the situation in his country to a deranged psychopathic one. Frankland tries to explain this by blaming the political point scoring machinations of the British government but it doesn't really convince. Similarly it is hard to believe that Sean is able to move from his measured, pro-human rights position to one of a key IRA operative simply because he witnesses the mess of Bloody Sunday.
This may seem over critical but it is because it spoils what could have been a fine book. If Frankland had worked harder at making his two key characters more consistent and believable then the book as a whole would have been much more effective. Then it would have been possible to forgive him his outrageously clichéd English characters and highly unlikely denouement. It could have been up there with the better works of 'Troubles Literature', as it is it is very much an 'also-ran'