Well, the book slump is over, thanks to a truly gut-wrenching read that I did not expect to be so affected by. It’s a tough one to talk about, but I’m gonna give it my best.
Today’s review is about Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe.
Ominous. Sinister.Very appropriate. I like it.
The Summary Heist
From award-winning New Yorker staff writer Patrick Radden Keefe, a stunning, intricate narrative about a notorious killing in Northern Ireland and its devastating repercussions
In December 1972, Jean McConville, a thirty-eight-year-old mother of ten, was dragged from her Belfast home by masked intruders, her children clinging to her legs. They never saw her again. Her abduction was one of the most notorious episodes of the vicious conflict known as The Troubles. Everyone in the neighborhood knew the I.R.A. was responsible. But in a climate of fear and paranoia, no one would speak of it. In 2003, five years after an accord brought an uneasy peace to Northern Ireland, a set of human bones was discovered on a beach. McConville’s children knew it was their mother when they were told a blue safety pin was attached to the dress–with so many kids, she had always kept it handy for diapers or ripped clothes.
Patrick Radden Keefe’s mesmerizing book on the bitter conflict in Northern Ireland and its aftermath uses the McConville case as a starting point for the tale of a society wracked by a violent guerrilla war, a war whose consequences have never been reckoned with. The brutal violence seared not only people like the McConville children, but also I.R.A. members embittered by a peace that fell far short of the goal of a united Ireland, and left them wondering whether the killings they committed were not justified acts of war, but simple murders. From radical and impetuous I.R.A. terrorists such as Dolours Price, who, when she was barely out of her teens, was already planting bombs in London and targeting informers for execution, to the ferocious I.R.A. mastermind known as The Dark, to the spy games and dirty schemes of the British Army, to Gerry Adams, who negotiated the peace but betrayed his hardcore comrades by denying his I.R.A. past–Say Nothing conjures a world of passion, betrayal, vengeance, and anguish.
This was a very different book than the one I had expected when I read that summary. Say Nothing is intense, and long, and utterly compelling. Keefe’s writing is stellar, which is no surprise considering he is a writer for the New Yorker, but sometimes the ease and elegance of his prose is easy to overlook when you think about how much research this book must have required. It’s not simply the scale of the research either, but the scope as well – this book touches on so many different events and versions of events and people involved in those events, over the span of a century… it’s incredible. And controversial topics, too. Despite being firmly on the side of Irish independence myself, I found that I appreciated Keefe’s relative lack of bias. (I think he’s on the side of the separatists, as well, though certainly not the paramilitaries and the violence they brought to the conflict).
I thought this book would be an examination of Jean McConville’s tragic disappearance and the ensuing search to discover her fate, along the lines of a true crime nonfiction. What I got instead was a stunningly comprehensive study of Northern Ireland’s violent war, a history of the IRA and it’s various branches and key players, and a deeper understanding of a subject I’d only had a very basic awareness of, thanks to Sean Bean and Brad Pitt. This book is absolutely stunning, and I highly recommend reading it. It made me desperate to learn more about Northern Ireland and the Troubles, but sadly, Toronto Public Library doesn’t seem to have many books that seem as interesting as Say Nothing. I do recommend watching Steve McQueen’s debut film, Hunger to learn more about the hunger strikes of the 70s.
Read it. A compelling tale of one family’s tragedy, set against an illuminating examination of the “troubles” of North Ireland’s struggle for independence.
As I mentioned above, this was a very well-written book. I am relying, as always, on Goodreads to find the best quotes, since I pretty much tore through this book so fast I barely had time to blink, let alone take notes.
– Claude Lévi-Strauss once observed that, “for the majority of the human species, and for tens of thousands of years, the idea that humanity includes every human being on the face of the earth does not exist at all. The designation stops at the border of each tribe […]
– Dating back to the Iliad, ancient Egypt and beyond, burial rites have formed a critical function in most human societies. Whether we cremate a loved one or inter her bones, humans possess a deep-set instinct to mark death in some deliberate, ceremonial fashion. Perhaps the cruelest feature of forced disappearance as an instrument of war is that it denies the bereaved any such closure, relegating them to a permanent limbo of uncertainty.
– Outrage is conditioned not by the nature of the atrocity but by the affiliation of the victim and the perpetrator. Should the state be accorded more leniency because, legally speaking, it has a monopoly on the legitimate use of force? Or, conversely, should we hold soldiers and cops to a higher standard than paramilitaries?
Not appropriate at all.
Book Boyfriend material
DEFINITELY not appropriate.
Nine and a half out of 10 VERY GOOD BOOKS.
ROBYN’S FINAL THOUGHT
THIS WAS A VERY SINCERE POST AND I AM VERY NOT USED TO THAT SO. FORGIVE THE AWKWARDNESS. Back to normal, with the stupid jokes and the gifs, with the next review, which will be posted soonish.
– xo, R