In some ways paradoxically, this is an excellent book, not very well presented, by a fantastic author. The first-person mock autobiographical prose in this work of fiction is so authentic that it must be either genuine biography, or incredibly well-researched by John Simpson. He deserves a huge amount of credit for creating a real gritty slice-of-life tale, so vivid you feel that you are there living it with the anti-hero, Tommy. There is no issue with the language, but rather the editing – the book is littered with errors, particularly punctuation.
Still, other than this, Simpson does a fantastic job of reliving the Troubles through the eyes of an apathetic and disaffected teenager. He paints well the scene, as the Troubles escalate, until they become accepted as a part of everyday life. The real tragedy in this tale is how matter-of-fact Tommy is in his acceptance of the situation, as though it is the most mundane thing in the world: adapting to the absurd and quite incredible violence that normal, decent people are willing to inflict upon their neighbours, especially when that hate is being fuelled and at times even condoned by a state with its own political agenda. Tommy is a normal boy, and his day-to-day worries of girls and acne contrast perfectly with his gradual slide toward sectarian guerrilla politics, despite his atheist beliefs; the flashpoint in Tommy’s life, inevitably and predictably, is the Bloody Sunday massacre. Yet, even then, only 16 or 17, he takes the threat of sectarian violence right outside his front door (sometimes not even outside) for granted. You do find yourself wishing the Northern Irish people could go back and, as is suggested by the Official IRA, take a stand, united against the British, with a Labour unionist rather than Republican approach. The saddest thing is that, in this book, the protagonists are mainly other brainwashed teenagers, and their involvement does seem to more resemble tit-for-tat gang membership, rather than fundamentalist sectarianism. Ultimately, the deaths and prison sentences seem futile, as factions dynamically change names and rhetoric, abandoning their prisoners, to suit a new political agenda.
This book offers a fantastic insight into the dynamics of Northern Irish sectarianism, and the real quality is in the way Simpson paints the idealists not as small-minded fundamentals, but as opinionated debaters with a yearning for socialism globally; the Northern Irish situation is considered, intelligently, in the context of communist politics, and Tommy’s family watch from a left-wing standpoint, with instrumental interest in events unfolding in the coup-orientated countries of south America, as well as the Vietnam war.
The grammar aside, Simpson is a very good, creative writer, with a great grasp of politics and history. His turn of phrase is, at times, particularly sophisticated – a fact which often betrays its council estate, working class setting; this phrasing is also quite lovely on occasion. Simpson is, in my opinion, a far better author than he makes out; of course, his first-person dialogue is intended to be genuine and realistic, but still I would like to see the book polished to an immaculate finish – it is so good I believe it deserves nothing less than this.
In : Book Reviews
Tags: john-simpson revolutionary ira northern-ireland the-troubles fiction