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  1. Most of us know the bare bones of the De Lorean story - a fantastical sports car with gull-wing doors, manufactured on the Peace Line in Belfast, running into financial difficulties and ending in scandal in a hotel room in the States. Glenn Patterson sets out to fill in the details; adding context, factual information and personal stories. The story as told by Glenn Patterson is, if anything, even more incredible than the sketchy details that most of us know. For a start, we meet John De Lorean himself. His public persona - the slick salesman with the looks of a statesman - is there. But we also get to see him as a motor man with a long and credible history in General Motors. We see him as a man who wants to break free of the mediocrity of mainstream motor manufacturing - wanting to set up a revolutionary company making a revolutionary car - a car bringing gold standard safety to a modest family budget. We see him through the eyes of Edmund Randall, a journalist recruited to turn De Lorean's vision into a reality. For most of us, De Lorean and Northern Ireland are inextricably linked. Therefore it's a bit of a surprise to find that the factory's location was almost an afterthought - previous negotiations with other states and nations having come to naught. At this point, dare we say it, the story feels like it is drifting. But once the decision is taken to locate in Dunmurry (not actually Belfast - more an unlovely dormitory town still just within the reaches of the red buses), the novel really takes off. We follow two story lines in particular - Randall's experiences as a sort of boss (his role is never defined) of a new-start motor works, and Liz and her co-workers on the shop floor. Both are learning more about themselves, about Northern Ireland, and about industrial relations than they could ever have imagined. The story of the De Lorean factory is one of public subsidy, given in the belief that peace would come to Northern Ireland through the prosperity of its workers. A man from overseas offering highly paid, highly skilled work was like a gift from god, even if the jobs were subsidised at more than 100%. It offered vindication to Roy Mason - and then Humphrey Atkins - that the paramilitaries would be defeated in battle and the war would be won on economics. History shows how wrong-headed this thinking was. Even from the earliest days, the Dunmurry plant had separate gates for the two halves of the workforce and had to contend with the tensions created by the hunger strike. What follows will be familiar to anyone who worked in the public sector (or publicly subsidised private sector) of Northern Ireland. Staff happy to get on with co-workers from the other side, willing to pretend to be aloof from the sectarian politics whilst actually having their entire world-view formed through the lens of their own tradition. Keeping to safe conversations, pretending to be involved only under duress... But in the case of the De Lorean Motor Company, there is also a genuine sense of family spirit - a sense of showing a sceptical world just what they were all capable of. For a brief while, there was a burning flame of ambition, workers trusting in management and making personal plans for self-development and future comfort. In this way, the workers on the shop floor are a concentration of the spirit of hope and adventure that was emerging in wider Northern Ireland society. Yet for all the broadening horizons of Ulster Man, we felt for Randall whose life seemed to have shrunk to the short pathway between house and factory. He never belonged and even what became his weekly Sunday outing was limited and fearful. One of the brilliant cameo roles created in Gull is that of Jennings, the NIO civil servant trying to stage manage the relations between the Americans and the Government. He is a genius at serving many masters, speaks in perfect mandarin understatement and, frankly, works damned hard to keep the thing on the rails despite appearing completely effortless. Anyone who has ever had dealings with the NIO will recognise the character - maverick yet conventional; obedient yet autonomous. Gull is a really compelling read, grounded clearly in time and space. It may be a fictionalisation, but it feels authentic. It switches effortlessly from an American voice for the Randall scenes to Norn Irn for Liz's scenes. The politics is there, but it is nuanced and set in context. In a beautiful example, he takes some of the workforce to train in the United States - they all happily celebrate their Irishness by singing Danny Boy, even though half of the company would never have dreamed of signing up for such singing back home. If there is a criticism, it is that the prelude feels slightly too long, the finish feels somewhat sudden. But I guess that's how it really was. And it has made me feel a whole lot more sympathy towards John De Lorean. ****0
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