by Deborah Rogers
Say Nothing, by Patrick Radden Keefe, was a chilling read, depicting the mystery surrounding a murder in Northern Ireland, whilst also illuminating the time period of The Troubles. A journalist and writer for The New Yorker, Radden Keefe dug deep in his mission to uncover secrets and truth. The title is well chosen though: there are good reasons why so many people choose not to talk about those times and the roles they played in the terror and counter terror campaigns that blighted Northern Ireland prior to the Good Friday Agreement.
We were a smaller group for our discussion this month, perhaps because the book is so dense, and the subject matter hard to stomach. Those who persevered were rewarded with a complex tale revealing and explaining both the large political story but also lots of small personal stories. In setting out to expose what happened to Jean McConville, a single mother of 10 and one of the IRA’s “disappeared,” Radden Keefe unravels the realities of life in Northern Ireland after partition, the roots of the IRA, the relationships between factions, and the tragic waste of lives lived entirely through the lens of “them” and “us.”
Our readers found they learned a lot about a period that is so recent and yet little understood. We saw all sorts of resonances and connections to other conflicts and geopolitical situations around the world. We learned also how ambiguous the notion of truth can be. The challenge for the writer is picking out the version of history that has the most veracity; the challenge for the reader is to trust that he did his research correctly, spoke to the right people, and believed the real version. Pages and pages of source notes accompany the text backing up his narrative.
While it was hard to come away from the book without feeling despair over the futility of violence as a solution, it also delivered some fascinating character studies. Figures who have long been painted as one-dimensional bogeymen were carefully dissected. Running alongside the story of Jean McConville and her family’s search for answers is the story of Dolours Price, an IRA terrorist in her early 20s and one of the original hunger strikers. The end of the book explains the uneasy peace that remains today and raises the question of how Brexit might affect it. There was plenty for our group to discuss!
At our next meeting on Tuesday August 10, we’ll be discussing When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole. Connect with Sidney/North Saanich Library to reserve your copy, and make sure you’re signed up to our email list to get the link for the online meeting: https://seasidemagazine.ca/book-club/.