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"You're already involved, aren't you, just by living here; so you might as well try and do something about it.",
This review is from: This Human Season (Hardcover)
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