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Found 22 results

  1. Glenn Patterson is one of Northern Ireland's national treasures. His novels over the past thirty years have documented the social history of Belfast, both contemporary and historic, with a great deal of love. Where other writers have focused mainly on the Troubles and the Catholic part of the community, Patterson writes from a Protestant perspective and his novels have kept the Troubles firmly in the background. Serendipitously, his writing has coincided with the Peace Process, allowing him to reflect great social change across his works. Where We Are Now is about middle age. Herbie is some
  2. The quirky female narrator in a Northern Ireland novel is not a new thing but it’s often an enjoyable thing. Big Girl is Majella O’Neill, an underachieving young woman of stout proportions who is squandering her considerable academic potential by working six nights a week in her local chip shop. The small town is Aghybogey, a thinly disguised version of Castlederg in County Tyrone. So Majella keeps a list of all the things she doesn’t like, including sub-categories. She also keeps a much shorter list of things she does like, many of which are related to food. She uses these lists to narr
  3. Milkman is a stream of consciousness story narrated by an unnamed young woman living in an unnamed part of Belfast (probably the Ardoyne), some time in the late 1970s. By way of context, the intensity of the killings in the early 1970s – especially the civilian deaths – had subsided; there had been population movement and people had retreated into small, “safe” pockets exclusively populated by people of the same political tradition (which was also generally correlated to people’s national identity and religion). Both unionists and nationalists still thought they could win the war through a
  4. I loved Memorial Device - For The Good Times feels like an awkward second novel. Basically we have some lads who are into comics and laughs who've joined the IRA. First they take over a comic shop in Belfast, then they end up on the mainland plotting atrocities. It was good, funny in parts and horrific in others. But basically, I didn't buy the characters and very specifically, I didn't buy Sammy, the main protagonist. The boys seemed to be driven neither by ideology nor by psychopathy. i just don't believe the Ra would have taken on such uncommitted, ill-disciplined jokers.
  5. Absolutely loved The Fire Starters. Maybe it was all the references to Connswater Tesco where I used to do my shopping (though it was better when it was still Stewarts). This is a comic novel set in the heart of loyalist East Belfast. Sammy Agnew is a decommissioned paramilitary trying to cope with civilian life. Jonathan Murray is a GP whose heart is not really in his work. Both share a feeling of irrelevance; both share concerns that their children are growing up to become monsters. Much of the humour is derived from a deadpan explanation of the cultural mores of the
  6. Travelling in a Strange Land is another masterpiece from David Park. Tom is a photographer. Often commissioned for weddings and portraits, he has a good eye for composition. He is a man of taste and discernment, appreciating his surroundings and those around him. He knows he is being superseded by the ubiquity of the selfie, shared on social media in an instant, forgotten in a moment – but he still believes he offers a quality product. He is a comfortable man with a comfortable life in North Down (my guess is Holywood). Shortly before Christmas, his son Luke is stranded in h
  7. Bernard MacLaverty is a sublime writer and Midwinter Break is as good as anything he has ever written. Gerry and Stella Gilmore are a long-married couple of pensionable age, living in Glasgow but originally from the north of Ireland. Gerry is fond of a nightcap and Stella has quite a strong Catholic faith. They know one another inside out. They have decided to take a mid-winter break to Amsterdam, perhaps to celebrate their enduring marriage. Gradually, and gently, we start to see the flaws in the characters emerge. This is done with such grace; the reader knows, likes
  8. The First Day is a really well crafted novel exploring love, loyalty, forgiveness and revenge. Samuel Orr is a pastor in East Belfast. He is married and has children. One day, inexplicably, he meets Anna, a literature PhD student from across the divide. They fall for each other and Samuel Junior is the result. The first half of the novel is told in third person by a very present narrator, throwing in editorial comment. It is heavily laden with biblical references - perhaps also Samuel Beckett references that I wouldn't recognise - telling the sorry tale of Samuel and
  9. Inspector Sean Duffy, token Catholic in the Carrickfergus RUC, is no stranger to murder. Rain Dogs is his fifth outing. In the preceding four novels, he has committed a long list of transgressions, has fallen out with many colleagues and most if his near neighbours have been caught up in previous investigations. This creates a fair amount of baggage that has to be disposed of at the start of each subsequent novel. One particular feature of Sean Duffy’s previous novels is the link between Carrickfergus crime and the big political picture. We have previously had the Brighton bombing, John de
  10. The cover should have warned me what lay ahead, but the premise of a Northern Ireland Troubles thriller with links to current day Byron Bay sounded intriguing. Halley meets Aidan, who is on a mission for his brother Liam. Halley, it seems, has not always been Halley the Mullumbimby cafe owner and had some involvement with Liam on a paramilitary mission in London some years back... The novel starts out like a pretty standard romance - Kimberley Brown's Trusting a Stranger comes to mind - as Halley is persuaded by Aidan to turn her life upside down. The back story seems incomplete - why woul
  11. This is the fourth Sean Duffy police procedural and it's the point where something really clicked for me. The series weaves real life, historic events into a parochial, Carrickfergus based crime spree. There is invention and, as Adrian McKinley notes in the epilogue, he has compressed events so they unfold quickly when in real life they were slow burning. But the effortless placing of these newsworthy events into a fictitious plot is really unusual. What felt uncomfortable in the first three novels now just feels right. So in this one, we find Inspector Sean Duffy investigating what appea
  12. I'm a big fan of David Park - I have read all his previous works and loved them - but somehow The Poet's Wives had not appealed. I finally bit the bullet, bought it and read it. I should have listened to my instincts. See, the thing is, I don't really get poetry. It's just never interested me. So books about poets - or their widows - is unlikely to float my boat. This is really three separate novellas. The first, Catherine, tells the story of William Blake's wife who seems smitten with jealousy when Blake looks to hired help to supplement Catherine's inadequate housekeeping. Then we ha
  13. It’s a little known fact that Lionel Shriver lived in Belfast for 12 years from 1987-1999. I shared a city with her and never knew – OMG. Anyway, shortly into her sojourn in the North, Lionel Shriver published a Troubles novel called The Bleeding Heart – later re-issued under the title Ordinary Decent Criminals. It was not a success. As Lionel Shriver herself acknowledges half way through the book, saying “the North was a tiny, exclusive Hell: only one and a half million people on earth would get your jokes”. So probably writing a book full of jokes about the North designed to offend and a
  14. 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
  15. Glenn Patterson is described on the back cover by Will Self as "Northern Ireland's Prose Laureate". That's a bold claim, especially since Patterson is almost unknown outside of Northern Ireland (and probably not that well known within it), but he is one of a handful of Northern writers who have something significant to say. The Mill For Grinding Old People Young is basically a history lesson for Belfast. Narrated in 1897 by an old man, Gilbert Rice, looking back at his youth, we find ourselves in Belfast pretty much as the Industrial Revolution arrives. If you love Belfast, it will be a tr
  16. The world is not short of Bildungsroman novels set in Northern Ireland’s Troubles. Invariably they feature Catholic kids growing up in West Belfast. You’ll not see much about the Troubles from a Protestant child’s perspective, and Heaven forbid that you might see something set in one of the other towns or cities – or <<shudders>> the countryside. There’s nary a blue bus in sight. The Good Son is not about to break the mould. Mickey Donnelly is in his summer holidays between primary school and secondary school, living right in the heart of Belfast’s Ardoyne probably in 1978. Thi
  17. A long time ago, Eoin McNamee wrote a novel called The Blue Tango about the true unsolved murder of a Judge Lance Curran's daughter Patricia in 1952. The novel did not offer up any answers, but did nudge readers in various directions. There wasn't anything at the time to indicate a trilogy in the making. We met Judge Curran again in McNamee's 2010 Orchid Blue. Here, he was presiding at the 1962 murder trial of Robert McGladdery, the last man to be hanged in Northern Ireland. It offered a greater insight into the life and mind of Lance Curran. Now, with Blue Is The Night, we find the two prev
  18. Three parties travel from Belfast for long weekends in Amsterdam. As their paths cross, and free of the constraints of home, they have an opportunity to take stock of their lives and address their deep seated dissatisfaction. It's not a new premise, but David Park draws his characters well. They might appear to be stereotyped at first blush, but Park has the sympathy and generosity to turn them into real, whole people with hidden qualities to balance their very obvious faults. The novel opens with George Best's funeral cortege, winding its way through the streets of East Belfast. It grounds t
  19. In The Morning is a lurid, over the top police procedural set in 1980s Northern Ireland. Our hero, Sean Duffy, has been busted down to sergeant and has been posted to the South Armagh border due to past indiscretions Sean is not happy, despite the helicopter rides. In a roundabout way - and without giving too much away - Sean Duffy finds himself given one last chance to prove himself. He is put on a mission to find a missing man. This gets him out of Armagh and back knocking on doors of Derry Housing Executive flats and making furtive trips across to Donegal. So far so good. But then Duffy ge
  20. Glenn Patterson is a long-established Belfast novelist whose works tend to focus on mundane lives with a backdrop of the Northern Ireland sectarian divide. Often these references are subtle, almost incidental. The Rest Just Follows starts out in much the same way – Craig Robinson is a young Grammar School boy. Maxine Neill failed the 11 Plus. StJohn Nimmo is a new boy at the Grammar School with a fondness of cigarettes. All three seem to have dysfunctional families. But unlike some of Patterson’s other novels, the details seem confused and hazy. Patterson has always had a thing where timeline
  21. Northern Ireland has long needed a really good police procedural writer. Until now, all those who have aspired have tripped themselves up with high body counts, high shock factor, obsession with paramilitaries or poor geography. Or a combination of the above. But Brian McGilloway has created a pretty regular detective - DS Lucy Black - operating in a post Good Friday Agreement PSNI. In Little Girl Lost, a local businessman's daughter has gone missing and DS Black answers a call about a girl found in an ancient woodland on the outskirts of Derry. Of course, the case is not as straightforward a
  22. Cassie is a girl on a mission. A nasty, gruesome mission. The man she meets will remember their meeting for a long time. Because Cassie is fighting for the Republican Cause. Sure, there's a ceasefire, but Cassie never signed up to it... So It Is weaves together Cassie's story with that of Aoife, a girl growing up in the nationalist Lower Ormeau Road area of Belfast. Aoife's world is a small area of houses, bounded by the river and the railway, isolated, but on the direct marching route from Protestant Ballynafeigh to the city centre. Aoife and her family shelter as loyalists hit golf balls ov
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