Customer Review

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 1979, Christmas, Long Kesh or back in E/W Belfast, 21 Mar 2006
This review is from: This Human Season (Paperback)
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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