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4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 15 February 2008
A truly excellent book.

A fictional Truth Commission is set up to examine Northern Ireland's troubled past. It is headed up by a particularly unsavoury character whose main aim is to get the job done, get out of Northern Ireland and then reap any benefits which may come his way. A retired RUC officer, a government minister with an IRA past and a young man living in America all have links to a missing boy who vanished during the height of the Troubles. Each character has attempted to put their past behind them and create a new life. However, the formation of the Truth Commission means they are now called to account for the past; a past which they had hoped had vanished also. Each character is shadowed by guilt, fear, self-justification or the need for atonement to a greater or lesser degree. Will the stirring of the waters bring freedom from a terrible past or simply a muddying of the waters? This book provokes many questions and not just in the context of Northern Ireland; you need no knowledge of or interest in the place to be dazzled by this book.

All of David Park's books are brilliant and thought-provoking. There is a simplicity in his style of writing that belies the power behind his work.
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on 27 July 2016
This is the second of David Park's books that I have read and the second with an unsatisfactory ending. Another 20 or so pages would have been useful to really tie things down.

I also wasn't keen on the format of a chapter on each of the four protagonists as it wasn't obvious how their stories were linked. And the chapters were formatted differently too - the first and third had section breaks every few pages whereas the second had no break for 40 pages. It makes for disjointed reading, having to put a bookmark in before a section break. A depressing story with no real ending - but I suppose that could be intentional as the Truth and Reconciliation Committee would not provide a real ending to grief and disagreement.
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on 12 February 2008
David Park has struck it lucky. Northern Ireland is sitting at the painted give way line waiting to drive out onto the roundabout of dealing with our past. Yet everyone is wondering what exit to take, what road we should journey down to try to uncover the truth behind events in the conflict. It's a good moment to be reading David Park's latest novel The Truth Commissioner as it rehearses one of the possible ways forward.

After learning about the four main characters, the book enters it's well-paced final section where the best laid plans in the truth process come unstuck. So many fragments of Northern Ireland's past: informers, the Disappeared, bugging, securocrats.

The book asks questions about truth. What it is? And at what price? It's a great book. A book of this time and of this place, Northern Ireland. Well worth reading for the story, as well as the ideas that will encountered in society at large over the next couple of years.
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David Park is a much underrated writer, and it was no surprise to see The Truth Commissioner passed over by the Booker Committee. But it was nevertheless sad - The Truth Commissioner is a subtle, human novel that adds enormously to the oeuvre of Northern Ireland literature.

The Truth Commissioner focuses on four people whose future lives depend in different ways on the handling of a truth and reconciliation hearing into the death of Connor Walshe, a 15 year old truant who sold tittle tattle to the RUC. It would be easy to play this as the Commissioner; the Sinn Fein Minister; the ex-RUC man; and the "On The Run" Terrorist. It would have been easy to focus on what had happened in the original incident; on the police investigation; on the immediate aftermath on the lives of the Walshe family. But David Park takes a much more subtle approach, drawing careful portraits of the four individuals - from different backgrounds and with different perspectives - in great detail. We see four people set in the here and now, their pasts hidden beneath layers of denial and layers of later experience.

The first half of the text appears to be simple pen portraits of these four, relatively unconnected lives. They are finely crafted, and David Park is able to evoke a sense of place just as much as a sense of person. The inherent dampness of the Belfast air seeps into the pores. The concrete corridors and warm forests of Romania lift effortlessly from the page. And the inherent melancholy and loneliness of all four protagonists cuts through the various settings and stories.

In the second half of the novel, the forthcoming hearing brings the characters together. We see political intrigue; we see the lies and manipulation that have been second nature to the various sides of the Troubles shining on into the peace process. The irony is that everyone claims to want the truth, but in fact, very few people want it at all. And at heart, the truth is unknowable anyway. Too many people have too many perspectives, and the real truth is almost an irrelevance underneath all the hopes, expectations and prejudices.

If there is a criticism, the ending does stray a little into cliché. The novel might have been stronger if it had ended as the hearing ended, and leave the story hanging. Alternatively, there might have been more pathos if people had just gone home without incident, leaving the past as a festering, but increasingly irrelevant wound. Whatever, the drama wasn't really needed or expected. But it shouldn't detract from what is a masterpiece of sensitivity and understanding in unfolding a scene of unremitting hopelessness.
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on 28 January 2016
I have given this three stars despite identifying so much with the events portrayed as the background to this novel, having lived through them. My familiarity with the subject matter pulled me on. David Park is a great writer, there is no doubt. His images are original and imaginative. However, in another review, the reader described his prose as 'over-cooked' and I have to agree with that. Sometimes the imagery is heavy and convoluted, enough to make the reader stop and blink! When words get in the way of the story instead of making you experience it, it's a problem. There are also enormous chunks of prose without the relief of dialogue. Not always a problem, but the book is very heavy on introspection and occasionally I felt that the internal maunderings of the characters were just unrealistic.
Nevertheless, this is an important imagining of the on-going trauma which is suffered by the participants in a conflict, long after the reporters and cameramen have left. I look forward to the film.
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on 13 March 2013
I loved this novel. Park 's prose is both taut and poetic, yet this is not an exercise in language for its own sake. The plot follows a number of characters in their journeys. Park's concerns of redemption, understanding and truth are explored with a sympathy and compassion which is never mawkish and always intelligent. The setting may be Northern Ireland and the post-troubles but the existential problems of what we do with truth and if it can ever really set us free are relevant for all readers. This is a wonderful writer.
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on 14 January 2014
This is a timely book in view of the difficulties that Dr. Richard Hass has experienced in developing a framework on which to build peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. It, and the work of Richard Hass, shows that reconciliation is more than delivering on the lowest common, agreed denominator.

The story is build around the background of the main protagonists as a hearing into the disappearance of a young, gullable teenage police informant approaches. The Truth Commission seems a logical way to address the yearning's of the young boy's family to find out what happened to him. But the process has been subverted and has been allowed to become a ritualistic exercise in self-justification of well-rehearsed positions.

As other reviewers have noted, the strongest part of the book is the build up to the hearings. Then the story falls away. Maybe the build-up could have been a bit shorter and more time spend on the aftermath.

Sustaining peace and building reconciliation will never be easy following a bitter conflict such as the Northern Ireland Troubles. Reconciliation needs a real commitment from all sides and must be more than a cynical exercise of just doing what is expected.
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on 12 April 2008
I enjoyed reading this book. It is really well written, with believable characters and makes important and perceptive points about the human impact of the move from conflict to peace in Northern Ireland. So why only 3 stars?

In part it is that it just felt too short. Once I had got to know the protagonists there seemed to be a sudden rush towards the end of the book, with the slow satisfying development of character in the first half overtaken by an apparent rush to tie up the plot ends.

As a result it just has not lingered in my mind in the way I thought it would when I was reading it.
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on 13 May 2013
I found this a very disjointed and long-winded book to read. For the first half of the book I was constantly trying to link the characters together and make sense of the narrative. It all came together finally, but i nearly gave up on it half way through.
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on 23 February 2015
New to this author really enjoyed it but his ending let it down this is the third book of his I've read and you get really into them and love the characters and they all leave you wanting to know what happens next maybe that is the idea !!!!
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