Book review: Glenn Patterson’s new work is marred by superficiality

The tone is a problem in The Last Irish Question: Will Six Into Twenty-Six Ever Go?

 Glenn Patterson addresses the thousands of people who took part in a 2015 Belfast rally calling for legislation for same-sex marriage.  Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Glenn Patterson addresses the thousands of people who took part in a 2015 Belfast rally calling for legislation for same-sex marriage. Photograph: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

The title of Glenn Patterson’s new book immediately gives itself the lie, raising as it does another question, then another, and another. Our fate, on this island, is, as the poet John Hewitt wrote, to inherit “eight hundred years’ disaster,/crazily tangled as the Book of Kells”. How then, as we attempt to navigate this new phase of post-Brexit complexity and strife, can there possibly be a last Irish question? And if there was, how could it possibly be as glib as “will six into twenty-six ever go?”

Patterson is a fine writer who has produced some excellent novels and some brave and thought-provoking essays and documentaries. He has a light touch, a way of glancing off things and leaving our perception of them changed. He can dazzle. He tells a good story. He has worked with Fighting Words, a great organisation that encourages young people to write, and he runs the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s University. He is one of those who feels compelled to try to explain to others his place, which is Belfast, Northern Ireland. It is a place which, he admits in this latest book, he loves “helplessly, a lot”. He is a good soul.

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